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Iké Udé’s ‘Nollywood Portraits: A Radical Beauty’ show opens in Lagos

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The Nollywood School

It was a glittering party attended by some of the country’s A-list artists. It also attracted high networth guests, arts connoisseurs, corporate gurus, including, Mrs. Bella Adenuga Disu, an Executive Director at Globacom, Sandra Obiago, a renowned curator, Osahon Akpata, Project Manager of the Nollywood Portraits, actors Sadiq Daba, Ozzy Agu, Uti Nwachukwu and Eku Edewor. There were also several filmmakers such as, Mahmood Ali-Balogun, Tope Oshin Ogun and Charles Novia, as well as members of the diplomatic corps.

The soiree was the opening of New York-based, Nigerian-born fine art photographer, Iké Udé’s solo photography show at the Alliance Française, Mike Adenuga Centre, on Osborne Road, Ikoyi, Lagos.

The exclusive preview of the show held on Friday, May 31, 2019, while the main event opened a day after. The exhibition ends on Sunday, June 16, 2019.

Titled, Nollywood Portraits: A Radical Beauty, Udé makes an impressive debut at an equally promising venue. The show features 64 enthralling portraits of some of the best Nollywood players.

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In the portraits, which are full length and captured in uniquely elegaic style, he orchestrates a histrionic filmic atmosphere of light and colour, whereby the industry’s illustrious veterans, in company of the next generation of emerging talent, pose in classically staged shots.

Udé knows how high the stakes are, especially since he is based in America where the narrative about Africa is negative and stereotyped – where the people are cast as fraudsters, hungry people who need aids to survive and many more. His elegiac photographs are unified by an overwhelming visual experience. Thus, he presents pictographic elements on an amorphous landscape that soaks in revelatory retrospective. There’s innovative choice of colour and subject. This wishfully canon-expanding show of photographs effectively reinforces the place of Nollywood in the country’s art history.

Udé, no doubts, is a path breaker in Nollywood documentation and using seductive images, he brings together a detail and rich history of an industry created by commerce.

His knack for harmonizing visual pleasure and vanguard ideas is captured by his understanding that objects accrue the most meaningful value when it is placed in relation to others., not as rivals.

Pictographic depiction includes a cross section of industry personalities, such veterans as Olu Jacobs, Sadiq Daba, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Genevieve Nnaji, Stephanie Okereke Linus, Kunle Afolayan and rising stars including Alexx Ekubo, Enyinna Nwigwe, Linda Ejiofor, Kehinde Bankole and several others.

Explaining the distinctiveness of his style at the exclusive preview event, Udé revealed that it comes from his background as a painter.

“I was formerly a painter; hence, my photographs employ a painterly language and longer-time process in the making of the pictures.”

The ‘making-ness’ of the picture is the definitive word because the portraits that emerge are no longer just pictures showing a moment of time captured by exposed film; they become works of art realized over periods of time.

“The whole exhibition is in colour. There are 64 individual portraits and one grand group portrait of all the subjects, which I named ‘The School of Nollywood’ a reference to and departure from Rafael’s 1509 fresco, The School of Athens, which can be seen at the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. The painting is of a grandiose architectural framework, depicting prominent philosophers of Greek antiquity, posed in a manner whereby they dominate but do not crowd their environment,” he said.

Udé further described Nollywood as the Nigerian and African mirror par excellence while also revealing his immeasurable admiration for members of the industry because of their industriousness, tenacity, DIY-can-do-attitude, cleverness, confidence, swag, etc.

With these works of portraiture, Udé seeks to complement the discourse on the representation of Africans in cinema, from colonial domination and inferior stereotypes to one of intellect and creative agency in telling our own stories.

Ozzy Agu and Iké Udé

Speaking of what takes a photograph memorable, Ude said: “The style, the how (composition, form, lighting, colour) and other precious, unquantifiable intangible poetics. I think that emphasis on political or socio-political content of a picture becomes irrelevant once the topical issues of the picture fades or are forgotten with the passage of time. But an exquisitely and imaginatively, well composed picture is invariably timeless in its appeal, regardless of when or where it was made.”

Udé is an aesthete, dandy, writer and founder of the seminal artfashion print magazine aRUDE, 1995-2009. In addition to the accompanying coffee table book, Nollywood Portraits: A Radical Beauty published by Skira in 2016, he is also the author of Style Files: The World’s Most Elegantly Dressed, published by Harper Collins in 2008 and Beyond Decorum published by M.I.T Press in 2000. Vanity Fair included him in the magazine’s International Best Dressed List in 20092012 and 2015.

He has been described as a master portraitist along with Vincent van Gogh, Rembrandt van Rijn and Andy Warhol and has exhibited in solo and group shows and has been reviewed in a number of publications including, Art in America, The New Yorker, Art Daily, L’UOMO Vogue, Flash Art, and The New York Times. His articles on fashion and art have been published in magazines and newspapers worldwide.

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Throughout his innovative career, Udé’s work has been exhibited at Leila Heller Gallery, New York (2013), the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence (2013), the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis (2014), the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam (2014), the Palm Springs Museum of Art, Palm Springs (2015), and the National Academy Museum and School, New York (2015), amongst others.

Udé’s work is in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian National Museum, Washington D.C., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, the Museum of Art and Design (MAD), New York, the New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, CT, the Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, NE and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum, Providence, RI. He currently lives and works in New York.

Speaking with The Guardian on being selected to sit for Nollywood Portraits, A Radical Beauty, Ozzy Agu stated: “ I’m honoured to be selected to sit for such a distinguished portrait artist as Ike Ude and also humbled by the brilliance of the company captured in the series. This is history in the making and I look forward to the creation of more editions for posterity sake.”

Raised in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Ozzy completed his secondary school at El-Amin International School, Minna. Subsequently, he completed his undergraduate study at Mercer University, USA with a degree in Business Administration and subsequently served as a Community Development Officer (CBOD) in the United States Peace Corps, Thailand.

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