Image: Self-Portrait
(Kumba, Cameroon, 1962 - )

Self-Portrait , 1977 (printed 2006)

Gelatin silver print
20 in. x 20 in. (50.8 cm x 50.8 cm)
Knight Purchase Fund for Photographic Media
In the mid-1970s, when Cindy Sherman started creating fictional self-portraits addressing mass media images of women in Buffalo, New York, Samuel Fosso was in Bangui, Central African Republic, creating self-portraits about male stereotypes in the African and European media.  Neither artist knew of the other’s existence.

Fosso had survived civil war and famine in Biafra before his uncle brought him to Bangui.  In 1975 this uncle established a portrait photography studio for the orphaned boy, who was thirteen.  That year Fosso also got his first glimpse of European popular culture and dress in a French telemarketing catalogue.  He found its illustrations “audacious” and liberating because, in the Central African Republic, it was forbidden to reveal the form or flesh of the body.  The catalogue illustrations “made me want to produce the same kind of image,” says Fosso.  “I posed in front of my camera and, for the first time, I felt alive.”

From 1975-80, Fosso secretly created self-portraits, posing in a variety of guises from businessman to underwear model to Yé-Yé disco boy.  These images were acts of political defiance as well as self-exploration.  The photographs remained hidden under his bed until 1993, when a curator researching contemporary African photography came to his studio.  The color images on view here are from a 1997 series commissioned by a French department store for which Fosso, as he described it, “began to play character roles again.”  
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Online Collection paid for with a grant from
John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

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