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[Africans on China – Arts] Samuel Fosso: Emperor of Africa

A master of theatrical self-portraiture turns toward China.

by Olu Oguibe for Aperture

As a teenage photographer and commercial portrait–studio owner in Bangui, Central African Republic, in the 1970s, Samuel Fosso took turns between client sittings in his studio to reel off self-portrait after self-portrait, modeling the fashion of the day: colorful platform shoes, bell-bottomed pants, huge dark sunglasses, tight-fitted shirts, and blowout Jimmy Cliff rude-boy fisherman hats typical of postcolonial African urban youth of the period. Using his own body and the nonchalant, adventurous power that only a teenage studio proprietor could wield, Fosso produced a formidable look book of African urban youth style in the wealthy, immediate postindependence decade.

After those images were discovered in the 1990s, their cultural significance brought Fosso into a vibrant circle of young African intellectuals: writers, international curators, and artists like Simon Njami and Bili Bidjocka, Okwui Enwezor, Iké Udé, Yinka Shonibare and this author, and Congolese urban chronicler Chéri Samba, among others. He inadvertently became part of a larger conversation, an emerging postcolonial African cultural movement, no less, that was searching for new languages and meanings, and engaged in deeper historical preoccupations relevant not just to the youthful, curious ego, but even more so to that great task that Frantz Fanon posed their generation: to discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it… [Keep reading here]

This article was originally published in Aperture issue 221, Winter 2015, available for purchase or in the Aperture Digital Archive.

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