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.