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Samuel Fosso borrowing identities at the FNCC

Borrowing identities, Samuel Fosso as U.S. civil rights icon Martin Luther King.

Borrowing identities, Samuel Fosso as U.S. civil rights icon Martin Luther King.

“As in all my works, I am both character and director. I don’t put myself in the photographs, my work is based on specific situations and people I am familiar with. [Those] things I desire, I rework in my imagination and afterwards, I interpret. I borrow an identity. In order to succeed I immerse myself in the necessary physical and mental state. It’s a way of freeing me from myself. A solitary path. I am a solitary man.” These are the words of one of Africa’s most celebrated photographers, Samuel Fosso.
His photographic exhibition starts next week at the Franco Namibian Cultural Centre.
Titled African Spirits, it presents the photographer as he inhabits various icons of black identity, from cultural leaders to the civil rights movement, including Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. His Tati series shows Fosso dressed up as fictionalised characters. Both reflect Fosso’s ongoing experimentation with the techniques of portraiture and the self-empowerment and sense of beauty projected by their theatricality.
Samuel Fosso was born in Cameroon, then lived in Nigeria as a 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 found work as an assistant photographer. Six months later he opened his own photographic portrait studio.
Fosso started taking self-portraits to send to his mother in Nigeria, whom he had left behind as a refugee. Although his initial aim was to show he was alive and well, his interest in exploring the genre grew steadily, and he experimented with new techniques and poses.
He is the subject, creator and focus of every photograph and each stands out on its own. In one photograph he epitomises wisdom as Kwame Nkurumah and boldness and strength as Martin Luther King in another . One would think he is narcissistic in his work as it is just him in the pictures but Fosso’s ability with the camera transforms his portraits into powerful message. He is able to transform a photo studio into an arena of black history and more.
Fosso’s work has been published around the world and shown in major global venues such as the Photographers Gallery in London and the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
The exhibition opens on Monday 1 July and runs until 19 July. Entrance is free.

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