In this photograph, possibly Fosso’s most famous self-portrait, he tackles the complexity of relationships between Africans and colonial powers. The image encapsulates a multitude of interpretations, from Western clichés to criticism of corrupt African leaders. The batik fabrics that create a decorative, almost Matissian background are often considered as symbolic of an African identity. However, they were probably imported in the mid-nineteenth century by the Dutch. Wearing flashy jewellery and dressed in a leopard skin and fur hat calling to mind those worn by Mobutu Sese Seko, the artist presents a thinly veiled caricature of the Congolese dictator. We can also appreciate his borrowings from the canons of the Western aesthetic, Van Gogh’s sunflowers for one.
Fosso is one of the most important African photographers of the last thirty years. Born in Cameroon, he spent his childhood in Nigeria before joining his brother in the Central African Republic. In 1975, he became an apprentice to a local photographer. Photography then enjoyed unprecedented popularity among young Africans, who in the period following the achievement of independence looked to the future with optimism. Fosso quickly embarked upon a personal practice built upon the selfportrait that progressively became more critical, using costume to express themes of identity.