2018 Infinity Award: Art — Samuel Fosso

© Jorge Herrera

Samuel Fosso had to flee his native Cameroon due to the persecutions caused by the Biafra war. He sought refuge in Bangui, Central African Republic, where, at thirteen, he opened his own photo studio. His expressive black-and-white self-portraits from the 1970s make reference to popular West African culture—musicians, the latest youth fashions, and political advertising—constituting a sustained and unprecedented photographic project that explores sexuality, gender, and African self-representation. Stagings of his personal identity, these self-portraits would gradually take a universal social and political dimension. In his series titled African Spirits (2008), he embodies iconic identities of fundamental characters of African independence, the civil rights movement in the United States, or prominent cultural figures from Africa and the United States, such as Leopold Sedar Senghor, Aimé Césaire, Muhammad Ali, Seydou Keita, Martin Luther King, or Nelson Mandela. In his latest series, Black Pope, Fosso challenges the relentless catholic veneration of whiteness in contemporary visual culture as resurrected in a restive, darker protesting version of the Pope. It is a series that directly challenges normative regimes of truth, power, officialdom, and the accoutrements that are used to reinforce belief.