Within Himself, an African Photographer Finds Multitudes – The New York Times

Within Himself, an African Photographer Finds Multitudes – The New York Times

In the aftermath of the civil war in Nigeria that devastated his Igbo community, Samuel Fosso was sent in 1972 to live with an uncle who was a shoemaker in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. Dissatisfied with cobbling, Fosso apprenticed with an Igbo photographer down the street. Three years after his arrival, he opened his own portrait studio. He was 13.

At the end of the workday, he would finish off a roll of black-and-white film with self-portraits for his grandmother back home, to demonstrate that despite having been a sickly child, he was in robust health. Showing off in front of the painted backdrops he used for his clients, he would put on a tank top and briefs, oversized sunglasses, a jiu-jitsu costume or fashionably fringed white pants — adopting the attire and attitudes of African and African American pop stars.

So began a lifelong project of self-portrait impersonations that has established Fosso, 60, as one of Africa’s leading photographers. His first solo American museum exhibition, “Samuel Fosso: Affirmative Acts,” organized by the art historian and professor Chika Okeke-Agulu at the Princeton University Art Museum, draws heavily from the holdings of the collector Artur Walther and offers a compact presentation of Fosso’s work.

He was catapulted from a career as a studio photographer in a small African city to worldwide recognition in 1994, when his self-portraits won an award in the first photography biennial in Bamako, Mali, where he was compared to Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keïta, two acclaimed portrait artists from Bamako. “I did not know I was making art photography,” he told the curator Okwui Enwezor in Aperture. “What I did know was that I was transforming myself into what I wanted to become. I was living out a series of ideas about myself.”

In 1997, a commission in Paris by Tati, a discount-clothing department store, inspired him to step up his ambition to a higher level. To distinguish himself from Sidibé and Keïta, he worked in color, staging self-portraits in which he fully took on the roles of fictional characters: a businessman, a bourgeois woman, a rocker. In one, posing as “the liberated American woman of the 70s,” he made up his face with lipstick and eyeliner, painted his fingernails blue, and donned a brightly patterned patchwork coat, bead necklaces, a straw hat and purple stiletto heels, carrying it off with a huge dollop of feminine self-assurance.

Even more bravura is his self-presentation as “the chief who sold Africa to the colonists.” Adopting the mock-tribal costume of contemporary African dictators like Mobutu Sese Seko of Congo but in cheap ersatz versions (faux leopard skins, tourist souvenir gold jewelry, a bangle on his calf and a toe ring), Fosso, clutching a bunch of sunflowers, peers out inscrutably behind white designer shades. In a room that is covered on the floor and walls with boldly patterned fabrics, his bare feet rest on a Kuba cloth, next to a pair of red loafers that he is proudly displaying as proof of his prosperity.

In subsequent series, photographing both in color …….

Source: https://news.google.com/__i/rss/rd/articles/CBMiX2h0dHBzOi8vd3d3Lm55dGltZXMuY29tLzIwMjMvMDEvMDUvYXJ0cy9kZXNpZ24vc2FtdWVsLWZvc3NvLWFmcmljYW4tcGhvdG9ncmFwaGVyLXByaW5jZXRvbi5odG1s0gFjaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubnl0aW1lcy5jb20vMjAyMy8wMS8wNS9hcnRzL2Rlc2lnbi9zYW11ZWwtZm9zc28tYWZyaWNhbi1waG90b2dyYXBoZXItcHJpbmNldG9uLmFtcC5odG1s?oc=5