Born in Cameroon in 1962, Samuel Fosso lived in Nigeria as a small child but was forced to leave at the end of the Biafran war in 1972. He moved to Bangui, in the Central African Republic where he lives and works.
"I've been taking pictures in my studio since 14 September 1975, when I was 13 years old. I was bored. I asked a photographer in the studio next to me if he would take me on, and he said yes. I worked with him for five months, then opened my own place for passport and portrait and wedding photographs. I started taking self-portraits simply to use up spare film; people wanted their photographs the next day, even if the roll wasn't finished, and I didn't like waste. Then 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 I suppose." - Samuel Fosso
The exhibition at Purdy Hicks Gallery includes works from his 1970's, Tati and African Spirits series. The black and white self portraits of the 1970's (originally sent to his mother in Nigeria to show her he was all right) were followed by the Tati series: a play on Western clichés. Continuing to evolve and expand the scope of his self portraits - using constructed images to critically narrate and reference cultural and political events - Fosso adorned himself to become a golfer, a biker, a lifeguard , an African chief. All are emblems of his politicized intent and liberating sense of irony.
African Spirits presents the artist inhabiting various icons of black identity, from cultural leaders to the civil rights movement, including Angela Davis and Malcolm X. Each image is based on a photograph that Fosso has faithfully reinterpreted in order to assume a different identity. These series reflect his continuing experimentation with the techniques of portraiture and the self-empowerment and sense of beauty which their theatricality projects.
A year after Fosso's work was discovered at the first edition of the Rencontres de la Photographie Africaine in Mali in 1994, he won the Afrique en Créations prize. Since then he has exhibited in major global venues such as the Centre National de la Photographie, Paris; the Photographers' Gallery and the Barbican Art Gallery, London, the Guggenheim Museum, New York; Tate Modern. He was included in the acclaimed Africa Remix exhibition which toured worldwide (including Hayward Gallery, London) 2004 - 2007, and also in the 26th Sao Paolo Biennale in 2004. His work is in held in many museum collections, including Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Los Angeles County Museum; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Tate.