New York Based Nigerian Artist Ike Ude In Lagos For First Exhibition In Nigeria
Nigerian-born, New York-based artist and photographer, Ike Ude have showcased his works in many countries of the world. His first exhibition in Nigeria titled: Nollywood Portraits: A Radical Beauty will hold at Alliance Française at Mike Adenuga Centre, 9, Osborne Road, Ikoyi, Lagos from June 1 to 16.
Ude is an aesthete, dandy, writer and founder of the seminal art fashion print magazine Arude, 1995-2009.
He is the author of Style File: The World’s Most Elegantly Dressed, published by Harper Collins in 2008.
He has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions 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.
Throughout his innovative career, Ude’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 Tropen museum, Amsterdam (2014), the Palm Springs Museum of Art, Palm Springs (2015), and the National Academy Museum and School, New York (2015), amongst others.
Ude’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.
In this interview conducted by The Nation, Ude speaks on his technique and style and what to expect at the forthcoming exhibition in Lagos.
How long have you been away and what is the bond home?
I’ve been away since 1981 and spend most of my life in Manhattan, New York-mostly in the Bohemia, downtown New York City. I became acutely aware of Africa and my Pan Africanism as a result of looking at Africa from the outside. It’s a radically different perspective than resident Africans who are within the continent and really don’t get an objective, hardcore view of themselves, in relation to their fellow Africans and in relation to nuanced international machinations and the aesthetic, no less the politics of looking, the demeaning framing or ciphered Western gaze of Africans as the quintessential other. So, the bond, to borrow your term, is immeasurable, intact and intense.
Tell us about your years of practice as a photographer
I studied photography with the great and late Roy DeCarava. It was mostly in the black and white tradition with emphasis on composition and darkroom post-production editing. I hated the darkroom and didn’t pay much attention to it. But studying with him made me aware of the importance of the medium. Thereon, in the 1990s, with the exception of my ULI series that referenced the Igbo Uli body paintings, I’d employed the photo medium for conceptual photography-which was more about concepts and semiotics of representations than aesthetic concerns. But this ultimately left me unsatisfied and yearned for a radically new way of making rather than merely taking photographs. I yearned and eventually found a distinct signature visual language and style of making picture in the photography medium that is uniquely my own and instantly recognised as Udé’s pictures. Thus far, I’ve focused on both self-portrait and portraits of other people who interest me for various artistic, historical and/or myriad representational reasons. The “Nollywood Portraits: A Radical Beauty”, being an excellent example.
What were the difficulties you encountered when you first started photography and exhibitions?
None really. If any, it is in the technical aspects of camera operation and lighting-mostly because I didn’t like doing them but would rather hire excellent assistants to take care of it. To my surprise, I’d since mastered these technical aspects too. My chief interest is in composition, lighting, colour, atmosphere and other imaginative, poetic, aesthetic, artistic needs of my respective pictures. Exhibition wise, my work and style doesn’t easily fit into the “African/Black” box of photography or art. I’m fiercely and proudly independent and don’t like to fit into any category or movement, say.
How many exhibitions have you had?
How would you describe your technique and style?
Painterly, elegant, beautiful, smart, art-historically-informed-fluent-correct.
What is your collection for the exhibition addressing?
A radically smart, intelligent, elegant, beautiful, anti-safari-perspective and dignified mode of African representation and representations in general, beyond the African subject.
What is the title of the show?
“Nollywood Portraits: A Radical Beauty”.
What first drew you to photography-and how did you discover it?
From childhood when our family photographer would come over to photograph the whole family on almost a monthly basis
What do you think makes a memorable photograph?
The style, the how (composition, form, lighting, color) 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.
How has social media played a role in your photography?
The internet more than, say, social media has played a convenient and resourceful, informative role for me. Surfing the internet has exposed me to plethora of varied images, styles, traditions, etc., that I wouldn’t have otherwise come across and learned from.
How does black and white vs color play into your work? Do you find them to be totally separate or complementary?
I studied black and white photography and consumed more of it before colour photography. It’s much easier to achieve a harmonious picture in black and white photography than in colour. Evidently, a superbly realised colour photography is far superior to a black and white photography. But the mastery and fluency with colour is the hardest thing ever for a painter or photographer. Yet, if one understands why black and white photography is easily harmonious and works, it yields one the answer to how to make perfect colour photography. So there is visual, aesthetic, poetic dialectic between the two. It took me a while to figure it out, appreciate it and make the most of it.
How many exhibits for the show? In colour or black and white
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
What inspires this homecoming exhibition and why now?
The Nollywood Industry. I have such immeasurable admiration for them-their industriousness, tenacity, DIY-can-do-attitude, cleverness, confident, swag, etc.
What is the unique selling point of the show?
Nollywood is the Nigerian and African mirror par excellence!
Who are some of your favourite classic photographers, and how did they influence you?
When I was younger, Man Ray, Cecil Beaton, Edward Weston, Steichen and photographers from the 1920s through the early 1950s. But since I came into maturity as picture-maker-around 2008-and post my unalloyed conceptual photography phase, it is European Old Master painters that inspire me beautifully. And just as well, I love the ancients, ranging from the Pharaonic Egyptian, Hellenic/Athenian Greek, Pompeii, Assyrian, Indian and Persian miniature pictures; Italian Renaissance and Dutch/Flemish painters. I’m also profoundly indebted to colours and rhythmic abstractions and colours of African fabrics-especially the West African fabrics as well as South African ones. I love the freedom, fearlessness, inventiveness, beauty and poetics of the African fabrics.
What do you think are some clichés in photography you steer away from yourself?
The religiosity and conservative attitude; the expectations of “truth” and facts; obsession with accuracy and technicality invested, expected and even expected or obligated that artists working with the medium abide by. Art or photography isn’t a religion, there and must be myriad ways to employ and work with the medium. And in the hands of artists, the photographic medium and results should concern itself with factuality and truths. The artist must have and feel at liberty to use the medium as he or she sees fit in the service of the resultant, artistic pictures in question. Agencies such as the police force or law enforcement agencies are more suited for taking factual, in artistic photographs and understandably for their legal/security purposes. And they excel at this. I’d say that 98% of fine art photographers are basically reproduction of facts, essentially journalism. And this is due to the religiosity and conservative attitude and “ethical” expectations still expected and demanded in of photographers and in photography. I’m totally against it! There shouldn’t be an ethics of photography or preordained expectant truths or facts in photography, unless for journalistic or legal reasons.
When you are out shooting-how much of it is instinctual versus planned?
It depends. Sometimes it is indeed 50/50; sometimes, 40% planned and 60% instinctual. I think that in portraiture, having consumed so many modes of portraiture from antiquity to now, my subconscious mind pretty much guide me during the shoot.