We use cookies to remember choices you make on functionality and personal features to enhance your experience to our site. By continuing to use our site you consent to the use of cookies. Please refer to our privacy and cookie policies for more information

Skip to main content

Modern and Contemporary Art and Photography from Africa and the Diaspora / Samuel Fosso (Cameroonian, born 1962) Untitled

Lot 29
Samuel Fosso
(Cameroonian, born 1962)
27 July 2022, 14:00 EDT
New York

US$5,000 - US$8,000

Own a similar item?

Submit your item online for a free auction estimate.

How to sell

Looking for a similar item?

Our African Modern & Contemporary Art specialists can help you find a similar item at an auction or via a private sale.

Find your local specialist

Ask about this lot

Samuel Fosso (Cameroonian, born 1962)

signed indistinctly in ink (verso); bears photographer's stamp (verso)
silver gelatin print
image: 13 3/4 x 14in (34.9 x 35.6cm)
sheet: 19 3/4 x 15 3/4in (50.2 x 40cm).


Stockholm, Moderna Museet; Sundsvall, Bildens Hus; Oslo, Norskt Fotomuseum, Samuel Fosso, Seydou Keïta, Malick Sidibé: Portraits of Pride, September 2002-April 2003, p. 99 (illustrated; another example exhibited).

Samuel Fosso is one of Africa's most celebrated contemporary artists. He has fostered widespread international acclaim for his vast body of photographic images which oscillate between self-portraiture and performance.

Acutely aware of the political potential of clothing, Fosso uses costumes and props to cast himself in diverse roles which he then captures on film. By assuming these different identities, he interrogates the interrelationships between gender, race, sexuality, colonialism, and power through his self-styled presentation. Situating his own body at the heart of his practice, Fosso has garnered comparisons to other leading artists engaging in performative self-portraiture, including Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954), Iké Udé (Nigerian-American, b. 1964), and Yasumasa Morimura (Japanese, b. 1951).

The present photograph belongs to the 70's Lifestyle series created by the artist between 1975 and 1978. This body of work is comprised of 69 black-and-white photographs which feature Fosso as their subject. Taking inspiration from the images found in American magazines brought to the Central African Republic by young volunteers working with the American Peace Corps, Fosso typically dressed himself in tight shirts, bell-bottomed trousers, and platform boots, emulating the outlandish style of the popular West African singer Prince Nico Mbarga. On several occasions, as in the present work, he is accompanied by another similarly styled figure. Together, they emulate the cool nonchalance cultivated by Fosso through his distinctive style and characteristic poses.

Fosso's early experimentation with self-portraiture was initially prompted by the pragmatic demands of running a successful studio photography business. Fosso was born in Kumba, Cameroon, in 1962. He moved to Nigeria as a young boy but was forced to leave the country due to the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War (1967-70). He moved to the Central African Republic where he initially worked alongside his uncle making women's shoes. Fosso was soon drawn to a local photography studio in Bangui where he began working as an apprentice. Five months later, at the age of 13, he had acquired sufficient skills to set up his own studio in Bangui which opened on September 14, 1975.

Fosso's clients demanded a rapid turnaround of their portraits which necessitated developing the film overnight. The young photographer saw an opportunity to use the final frames of half-used rolls of film to create self-portraits. While he initially took the images with the intention of sending them to his grandmother in Nigeria, Fosso recalls that over time the function of his photography shifted: 'I saw the possibilities. I started trying different costumes, poses, backdrops. It began as a way of seeing myself grow up, and slowly it became a personal history – as well as art' (quoted in Henley, 2011).

Fosso's experimentation with self-styling led to the inception of the 70's Lifestyle series and continues to underpin his practice. In 2008, for instance, he created the notable series, African Spirits, in which he assumes the personas of American activists and musicians from history to create a visual pantheon of celebrated Black figures.

Today, Fosso continues to live and work in Bangui, Central African Republic. His photographs can be found in important museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, both New York, and the Tate Modern, London. The images that comprise the 70's Lifestyle series demonstrate Fosso's bold reimagining of the practices of African studio photography and remains one of the artist's most desirable bodies of work. A print of the present work is held in the collection of the Tate, London.

Jon Henley, 'Photographer Samuel Fosso's best shot', The Guardian, June 19, 2011, online.

Additional information