Home Entertainment Nigeria’s Iké Udé takes “Nollywood Portraits” to The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington

Nigeria’s Iké Udé takes “Nollywood Portraits” to The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington

by Emmanuel Ogundele
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Exhibition Explores African Beauty Through Portraits of Nollywood Celebrities

“Iké Udé: Nollywood Portraits” will be on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in February 2022 starting Saturday, Feb. 5.

“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 Iké Udé has perfected,” says 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 further disclosed that on Friday February 11, 2022, there will be a virtual global launch event of the exhibition featuring an interactive session with the artist, Iké Udé, 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 exhibition. 

Iké 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.

Currently based in the U.S., Udé is originally from Nigeria. After three decades away, he returned to Lagos, Nigeria, in 2014 to photograph its celebrities. The exhibition 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, Iké Udé presents a world of beauty, and most powerfully, a world that centres onAfrican beauty.”

On display through February 2023, the exhibition was originated by independent curator Selene Wendt and curated for the Smithsonian by Karen E. Milbourne. 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.

“Iké 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. “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 exhibition 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.

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