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Changing the Narrative: Iké Udé’s Nollywood Portraits

Iké Udé is an explorer of dualities, so mastered is this art of exploring that we take note of his recent work titled Nollywood Portraits: A Radical Beauty which recently opened at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago and would be exhibiting until December 23rd, 2016. Born in Nigeria in 1964 and having lived in New York since the 1980s, he has built a name for himself as a master portraitist being compared with legendary artists such as Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Andy Warhol.

This celebrated artist has works exhibited and in the permanent collection of renowned museums and galleries such as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Smithsonian Museum of Art, Udé has also created portraits for celebrities like Rihanna, Isabella Rosellini and Manolo Blahnik.

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In October, Udé returned to Lagos, Nigeria and took photos of 64 Nollywood personalities, capturing an impressive cross section of the industry. The objective of this project is to celebrate these African celebrities in the timeless, classically elegant, style he has perfected.

In his own words, “Nollywood is the new face of Africa. Nollywood is the way I see myself as an African and the way we Africans see ourselves.”. This projects give Nollywood a new face.

According to Osahon Akpata, who worked as Udé’s project manager for two years, “our goal is to take these elegant portraits of Nollywood stars to the highest art and cultural institutions in the world, changing the narrative of how Africans are viewed,”.

The centerpiece of the body of work, The School of Nollywood (2014-2016), a grand group portrait of all 64 personalities was exhibited at the prestigious Arles Photo Festival in France and was displayed at the Toronto International Film Festival last month. At once a reference to and departure from Rafael’s famous fresco, The School of Athens (1509), the picture is the same size, an imposing 5 meters by 7.7 meters. The Museum of Contemporary Photography are displaying this mural along with a dozen select individual portraits from the body of work.

Udé plans to release a feature length documentary title Nollywood in Focus in 2017. This project would be an insider’s view on the challenges and potential of Nollywood. In all this, the most exciting is the possibilities of bringing this exhibition home to the ever-ready state that is Lagos.

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