Self Portrait (SM 18) (work of art)
Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- Fosso is pictured from the waist up, seated in front of a solid background. He is wearing a striped button-down shirt with a wide collar, dark-colored pants, a modified pillbox hat tipped to one side, dark sunglasses with metal frames, and a necklace with a large, round pendant. The camera perspective makes the subject’s head appear slightly out of proportion to his body.
- Fosso created self-portraits such as this one during the 1970s, when studio portraits were common in Central Africa. People dressed to communicate their personalities and were photographed in front of a simple backdrop.
- Fosso created different personas, dressing as both male and female characters in his self-portraits.
- His portraits show an interest in identity and self-expression, which was common in many African cultures after they gained independence from colonizing European countries in the mid-20th century. He challenges cultural and gender stereotypes and celebrates his freedom to portray himself as he chooses.
Although born in Cameroon, Samuel Fosso spent most of his childhood in Nigeria among his people, the Igbo. When he was five years old, the Biafran civil war broke out in Nigeria, making the area unsafe for many Igbos. In 1972 Fosso moved to Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, to work in his uncle’s shoe factory. He became interested in photography and left the factory to work as a photographer’s apprentice. Fosso began making self-portraits in 1975, at the age of 13, when he opened his own photographic studio.
In his private studio self-portraits, the artist created different personas, borrowing iconic images and cultural stereotypes to explore African, personal, and urban youth identities. In this image, Fosso features himself as a subject with a commanding presence, wearing a pair of square sunglasses, a modified pillbox hat, a striped shirt with a wide, butterfly collar, and a necklace with a round pendant. The black-and-white checkered floor of his studio is reflected in his sunglasses, and his eyes are just barely visible behind his glasses. This creates a “double vision” effect that invites a closer look; the artist has included himself and his studio in the photograph, and although he appears to look directly at the viewer, he is actually looking away. Fosso did not gain recognition as one of the most important contemporary African photographers until the 1990s.
Resources for Teachers:
- Read more about African studio photographers.
- Read about Fosso and his work.
- Read an interview with Fosso.
Resources for Students:
- Experiment with self-portraiture.
- View examples of West African studio photographs by other African artists.
- Learn more about Fosso’s life.