Exhibition Explores Black Beauty Through Portraits of Nollywood Celebrities
“Iké Udé: Nollywood Portraits” will be on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art starting Saturday, Feb. 5. Multimedia artist Iké Udé celebrates the luminescent beauty and mystique of Black 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 color, 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 Black 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 centers Black 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 outrageous 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. The exhibition will launch globally with a virtual event featuring Nollywood stars discussing their portrait experience and taking questions from the audience, as well as an exclusive preview of Udé’s documentary short, “Nollywood in Focus.”
About Iké Udé
Throughout his career, Udé (b. 1964, Lagos, Nigeria) has consistently challenged distinctions between art, performance and style and has positioned himself at the forefront of each. He is perhaps most widely recognized for his performative, often 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.
About the National Museum of African Art
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art is the only museum in the world dedicated solely to the collection, conservation, study and exhibition of Africa’s arts across time and media. The museum’s 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. For more information, call (202) 633-4600 or visit the museum’s website. For general Smithsonian information, the public can call (202) 633-1000. Follow the museum on Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.