Samuel Fosso is a Cameroonian photographer best known for his ongoing series of self-portraits taken with various guises and constructed identities. Fosso's work came to international prominence in the early 1990's for his bodies of performative work that started in the 1970s, and he is now regarded as a seminal artist in the discourse of African photography. In the African Spirits series, Fosso reinterprets photographic icons of great leaders from the African Independencies, Civil Rights movement, and black cultural monuments. He assumes various guises in the photographs, including Mandela, Senghor, Aimé Césaire, Miles Davis, Martin Luther King, Seydou Keita, Angela Davis, N’Krumah, Lumumba, Tommie Smith, Haïlé Sélassié, Malcolm X, and Muhammad Ali.

Samuel Fosso had to flee his native Cameroon due to the persecutions caused by the Biafra war. He sought refuge in Bangui, Central African Republic, where, at thirteen, he opened his own photo studio. His expressive black-and-white self-portraits from the 1970s make reference to popular West African culture—musicians, the latest youth fashions, and political advertising—constituting a sustained and unprecedented photographic project that explores sexuality, gender, and African self-representation

The Emperor of Africa explores the relationship between Africa and China by recontextualising icons of Mao Zedong, with Fosso playing the part of the controversial Chinese leader.

Speaking about his work, Fosso states: “As in all my works, I am both character and director. I don’t put myself in the photographs: my work is based on specific situations and people I am familiar with, things I desire, rework in my imagination and afterward, I interpret. I borrow an identity. In order top succeed I immerse myself in the necessary physical and mental state. It’s a way of freeing me from myself. A solitary path. I am a solitary man.”


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