Samuel Fosso: African Spirits

Aug 5, 2022 – Jan 15, 2023
Main Building

Samuel Fosso: African Spirits features the artist’s fourteen, large-scale gelatin silver photographs from African Spirits. In this series of self-portraits, completed in 2008, Fosso pictures himself as Angela Davis, Martin Luther King Jr., Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Malcolm X, and other prominent figures from 20th-century Black liberation movements. His photographs reference iconic images, such as Carl Fischer’s photograph of Muhammad Ali that was published on the cover of Esquire in 1968 and the police mugshot taken of King after his arrest during the 1956 bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. Fosso’s reinterpretations of these historic photographs pay homage to the figures in the original images and raise questions about individuality, celebrity, the media, and the complicated history of representation.

The Menil’s exhibition of African Spirits is in conjunction with the 2022 FotoFest Biennial and African Cosmologies Redux, a new presentation of photography originally curated by Dr. Mark Sealy OBE, Director of Autograph, London, and Professor at the University of the Arts London.

About the artist:

Born in Cameroon, Samuel Fosso lived in Nigeria until the Nigeria-Biafra War (1967–70), when he and his uncle moved to Bangui, the capital city of the Central African Republic. It was there that Fosso apprenticed with a local studio photographer. In 1975, when he was just thirteen years old, Fosso opened his own commercial portrait studio, Studio Photo National. He routinely finished off unused rolls of film by taking self-portraits that he displayed to promote his studio business or he sent to his family living in Nigeria. Exhibited for the first time in 1994 at the inaugural biennial exhibition Rencontres Africaines de la Photographie in Bamako, Mali, these early images brought Fosso immediate international recognition. His work can be found in numerous museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; and Tate Modern. Fosso continues to produce compelling work using the visual format of portraiture to explore social history, personal and shared memories, humor, and the psychology of personhood.

Samuel Fosso: African Spirits is curated by Paul R. Davis, Curator of Collections, The Menil Collection.

Major funding for this exhibition is provided by The Eleanor and Frank Freed Foundation. Additional support comes from Anne Levy Charitable Trust; Mark Wawro and Melanie Gray; Franci Neely; and the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance.

Samuel Fosso: African Spirits at the Menil Collection, Houston. Video: Jay Clark
Samuel Fosso in conversation with Mark Sealy | The Menil Collection, Houston. October 6, 2022.