Till Förster

Anthropology / Art History, Basel
Fellowship: 01.02.–31.07.2017



Till Förster is an anthropologist and art historian. He holds the chair of social anthropology and is founding director of the Centre for African Studies at the University of Basel, Switzerland. He has specialised on visual culture and political transformations in West and Central Africa and conducted field research for many years, mainly in Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon. His recent publications focus on questions of governance and social creativity in northern Côte d’Ivoire and on urban visual culture in Cameroon. Together with Sidney Kasfir, Till Förster has edited African Art and Agency in the Workshop (Bloomington 2013) and with Lucy Koechlin The Politics of Governance (London 2014).


Fields of Research

  • Visual culture
  • Art
  • Ritual
  • Governance
  • Politics
  • Social change
  • Côte d'Ivoire
  • Cameroon
  • Africa


Project outline

An Elusive Art: The great transformation of African urban visual culture


Today, Africa witnesses an extremely accelerated cultural change induced by the incredible rapid spread of information technologies. They propel African social life from face-to-face encounters into mediatised life-worlds that extent across the continent and into global mediascapes. The main platform for this great transformation is the city and the urban life that it breeds, leaving no sphere of life untouched. This project traces this transformation by looking at how the image of man as mental representation and as material picture has changed since the end of the short century, roughly over the past 25 years. It looks at newly emerging forms of portraiture in various media, in particular on mobile phones, the internet and social media. Taking portraiture as empirical focus and using intermediality as conceptual framework, it follows mental images across different media and social spaces and explains how they become visible, material pictures. In a second step, it looks at how these images constitute a novel image of urban man as an essential part of Africa’s contemporary social life.