Samuel Fosso Untitled from the series African Spirits 2008

  • Not on view

In his series African Spirits, the photographer Samuel Fosso assumes the guises of political, intellectual, and cultural figures from Africa and the African diaspora. In large-scale, meticulous formal portraits, Fosso dons the distinctive garb and characteristics of his subjects, recognizable from their widely disseminated photographic likenesses. These include the impeccable afro of American activist and educator Angela Davis and the browline spectacles of Patrice Lumumba, who was imprisoned and then executed shortly after becoming the first prime minister of the Republic of the Congo after it gained independence from Belgium.

Fosso opened a commercial portrait studio at the age of thirteen in Bangui, in the Central African Republic, where he had settled after fleeing the Biafran War in Nigeria. He began taking selfportraits, in which he modeled the styles of the day, to send home to his grandmother in Nigeria. His embrace of costuming also refers to his Igbo heritage, especially seasonal masquerades that include exuberant performances with vibrant masks and garments, providing entertainment and linking the living with their ancestors. Fosso's African Spirits, made in 2008, likewise revive the energies of these groundbreaking forebears.

Gallery label from Unfinished Conversations, March 19-July 30, 2017.
Gelatin silver print
64 1/8 × 48 1/16" (162.8 × 122 cm)
The Family of Man Fund
Object number
© 2024 Samuel Fosso

Installation views

We have identified these works in the following photos from our exhibition history.

How we identified these works

In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.

If you notice an error, please contact us at [email protected].


If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

MoMA licenses archival audio and select out of copyright film clips from our film collection. At this time, MoMA produced video cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. All requests to license archival audio or out of copyright film clips should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For access to motion picture film stills for research purposes, please contact the Film Study Center at [email protected]. For more information about film loans and our Circulating Film and Video Library, please visit

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].