Acclaimed Photographer and “Man of a Thousand Faces” Samuel Fosso Is the Subject of a Major Survey at the Princeton University Art Museum

Exhibition opens November 19 at the Museum’s downtown gallery space Art on Hulfish

PRINCETON, NJ – This fall the Princeton University Art Museum will present Samuel Fosso: Affirmative Acts, the first major US survey of one of the most renowned contemporary artists based in Africa today. The exhibition—curated by Princeton University Professor Chika Okeke-Agulu with Silma Berrada, Lawrence Chamunorwa, Maia Julis, and Iheanyi Onwuegbucha—will be on view at Art on Hulfish in downtown Princeton from November 19 to January 29, 2023, and will offer US audiences an introduction to one of the best-known photographers from the African continent on the international scene.

Dark skinned man wearing a brightly colored suit kneels in front a painted green leafy background.Fosso’s intimate self-portraits, which he began shooting when he was about thirteen, explore identity, social history, and the impact of colonialism on the African continent. The earliest work in the exhibition, which includes more than twenty pictures drawn mostly from The Walther Collection, was shot in 1975, when the young Fosso opened his first studio in the Central African Republic. After spending each day taking pictures of clients, Fosso used leftover film to take self-confident photos of himself to send to his grandmother in Nigeria.

In 1997 Fosso, by then an established artist, earned a commission from the French retailer Tati for twelve self-portraits wearing the styles of the day. The images—the first Fosso took in color—depict the artist as a golfer, a lifeguard, and a bourgeois woman, among other personalities, suggesting the flexibility of identity, social class, and gender. The series earned him the moniker “the man with a thousand faces.” Just over a decade later, Fosso broadened his interest in identity with his series African Spirits (2008), wherein he dressed himself up as fourteen icons of Black Liberation (including Martin Luther King Jr., Angela Davis, Muhammad Ali, and Malcolm X) to celebrate and pay homage to their transformative political work. Works from both series, drawn from The Walther Collection, will be on view.

The exhibition continues with images from the past decade that consider Africa as a crossroads of the world. In Emperor of Africa (2013), Fosso reimagines himself as the Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong as a comment on the widespread presence of Chinese investment across the African continent today. Another work, Black Pope (2017), depicts the artist holding a large cross and posing as the head of the Catholic Church, thereby reflecting on Christianity’s deep influence on African societies and political structures while also asking audiences to imagine what a Black Pope could look like.

“This exhibition is an overdue opportunity for us in the United States to familiarize ourselves with Samuel Fosso’s remarkable work and career,” said James Steward, Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, Director. “His photographs are poignant reflections on the complexities of modern life, the shifting nature of identity, and the interconnectedness of modern nations and societies that have only become more relevant in recent years.” 

Samuel Fosso: Affirmative Acts is organized by the Princeton University Art Museum in collaboration with The Walther Collection.

About Art on Hulfish

Art on Hulfish showcases a roster of exhibitions led by photography and time-based media that consider issues of profound impact on twenty-first-century life. Located at 11 Hulfish Street in downtown Princeton, it encompasses some 5,500 square feet of space for exhibitions and public programming, ranging from drop-in activities to scheduled work with artists. Admission is free. Launched in December 2021, the gallery is presenting four exhibitions each year through late 2024, during the time when the Museum’s new facility designed by Sir David Adjaye is under construction.

Art on Hulfish is made possible by the leadership support of Annette Merle-Smith and by Princeton University. Generous support is also provided by William S. Fisher, Class of 1979, and Sakurako Fisher; J. Bryan King, Class of 1993; the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; John Diekman, Class of 1965, and Susan Diekman; Christopher E. Olofson, Class of 1992; Barbara and Gerald Essig; Rachelle Belfer Malkin, Class of 1986, and Anthony E. Malkin; the Curtis W. McGraw Foundation; Jim and Valerie McKinney; Tom Tuttle, Class of 1988, and Mila Tuttle; Nancy A. Nasher, Class of 1976, and David J. Haemisegger, Gene Locks, Class of 1959, and Sueyun Locks; Class of 1976; H. Vincent Poor, Graduate School Class of 1977; the Walther Family Foundation; and Palmer Square Management. Additional supporters include the Humanities Council, the Lewis Center for the Arts, the Africa World Initiative, the Program in African Studies, the Department of African American Studies, and the Center for Collaborative History. 

About the Princeton University Art Museum

With a collecting history that extends back to 1755, the Princeton University Art Museum is one of the leading university art museums in the country, with collections that have grown to include more than 113,000 works of art ranging from ancient to contemporary art and spanning the globe. Committed to advancing Princeton’s teaching and research missions, the Art Museum also serves as a gateway to the University for visitors from around the world.

The main Museum building is currently closed for the construction of a bold and welcoming new building, designed by Sir David Adjaye and slated to open in late 2024.

Art on Hulfish is open daily in downtown Princeton at 11 Hulfish Street. Art@Bainbridge, a gallery project of the Princeton University Art Museum, is open Tuesday through Sunday at 158 Nassau Street in downtown Princeton. Admission to both galleries is free.

Please visit the Museum’s website for digital access to the collections, a diverse portfolio of programs, and details on visiting our downtown galleries. The Museum Store in Palmer Square, located at 56 Nassau Street in downtown Princeton, is open daily, or shop online at  

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