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Udé takes Nollywood Portraits to Smithsonian

By Precious Ogwa
09 February 2022   |   3:35 am
On Saturday, Iké Udé’s Nollywood Portraits was on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C., in the United States.

Ike Ude, left; the late Sadiq Daba and Osahon Akpata , project director at the exclusive preview of the exhibition in Lagos, in 2019

On Saturday, Iké Udé’s Nollywood Portraits was on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C., in the United States. The show will be on all through February, as part of activities celebrating the Black History Month.

The museum is the only facility in the world dedicated solely to the collection, conservation, study and show of Africa’s arts across time and media. Its collection of over 12,000 artworks spans more than 1,000 years of African history and includes a variety of media from across the continent.

The show features 33 of Udé’s 64 portraits of Nollywood film stars, directors and producers, alongside — for the first time — some of the garments styled by the stars and a bespoke set, in which visitors can create their own identities with the help of on-site stylists.

“Black History Month is an opportunity to reflect on the contributions of African people across the globe to art, to history, to culture and to our common humanity,” said Ngaire Blankenberg, director of the National Museum of African Art. “Whether he turns his camera on himself, flowers or the talented stars of Nollywood, Udé presents a world of beauty, and most powerfully, a world that centres onAfrican beauty.”

Udé has consistently challenged distinctions between art, performance and style and has positioned himself at the forefront of each.

He is, perhaps, most widely recognised for his autobiographical, approach to photography, which is typically bold, ironic, playful and inquisitive.

With the launch of his art, culture and fashion magazine aRude in 1995, Udé set the standard for what would set a trend of similar magazines worldwide

In the show, Udé celebrates the luminescent beauty and mystique of Nigerian visionaries, by turning his lens on the talented people, who drive Nollywood, Nigeria’s $3 billion film industry.

Known for his performative and iconoclastic style and vibrant sense of composition, Udé’s photographs use colour, attire and other markers to make elegant yet unexpected portraits.

His photographs make a bold statement about the power of African identities, despite centuries of attempted erasure by Eurocentric art history and notions of beauty.

“We are very excited to join the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in celebrating these Nigerian film industry personalities in the classic, elegant style Udé has perfected,” said Osahon Akpata, Project Director of Nollywood Portraits. “The radical beauty of these portraits is intended to make a bold statement about the portrayal of our people at the highest art and cultural institutions in the world.”

Akpata said on Friday, February 11, there would be a virtual global launch event of the show featuring an interactive session with the artist and four Nollywood stars discussing their portrait experience, an exclusive preview of Udé’s documentary short, Nollywood in Focus, and a sneak peak of the show.

In addition to Udé’s portraits, the exhibition will feature fashion, film clips and interviews with such Nollywood celebrities as, Alexx Ekubo and Taiwo Ajai-Lycett.

“Udé is a true visionary who presents himself and the world around him with a combination of extraordinary style, cutting intellectual humor and exacting detail,” said Milbourne, senior curator for the National Museum of African Art.

Based in the U.S., after three decades away from home, he returned to Lagos, in 2014, to photograph its celebrities.

The show was originated by independent curator Selene Wendt and curated for the Smithsonian by Karen E. Milbourne.

The curator added,“ he reveals how each of us performs our identity, and in the case of these Nollywood stars, he takes us beyond the façade of celebrity. He invites us to see how they, themselves, want to be seen.

“The show counters the isolation of COVID-19 and winter in Washington with a unique and regenerative visitor experience. Everybody is celebrated as they enter on a red carpet. Weekends will be especially dynamic as visitors are invited to bring their best selves (and outfits) to the museum to be enhanced by an on-site stylist before taking a photograph in an Udé-style set.

“Visitors can also explore portrait art using interactive tools in which they can combine set, stage and costume to envision lustrous compositions of their own,” the organisers said.