Iké Udé // Like a Bolt Out of the Blue

Videographer, Photographer, & Interviewer Saul Appelbaum, Music Producer & Text Editor N. Lund, and Composer & Performer Hope McCoy
Videographer, Photographer, & Interviewer Saul Appelbaum, Music Producer & Text Editor N. Lund, and Composer & Performer Hope McCoy

Portraiture is a marvelous conspiracy of perception and the personal in silent concert.
- Iké Udé

 
Iké Udé was born in Nigeria in the 1960s and has lived in New York City, New York in the US for over 4 decades during which time he has earned the reputation as a master portraitist. Udé gives conceptual aspects of performance and representation a new vitality, melding his own theatrical selves and multiple personae with his art. He has held numerous exhibitions and his work is in the permanent collections of top museums worldwide including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Smithsonian Institution and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Udé is very conversant with the worlds of celebrity and fashion and is publisher of the acclaimed aRUDE magazine. He has made the coveted Vanity Fair International Best Dressed List four times (in 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2022 when he was inducted into their hall of fame)

Mr. Udé is author of Nollywood Portraits: A Radical Beauty (published by Skira in 2016), Style Files: The World’s Most Elegantly Dressed (published by HarperCollins in 2008) and Beyond Decorum (published by MIT Press in 2000).

Saul Appelbaum took the opportunity to reflect with Udé on how his newest. series Nollywood Portraits add new yet familiar dimensions to his conceptual, formal, sensual, cosmopolitan, perceptual, and personal oeuvre.

Iké Udé was born in Nigeria in the 1960s and has lived in New York City, New York in the US for over 4 decades during which time he has earned the reputation as a master portraitist. Udé gives conceptual aspects of performance and representation a new vitality, melding his own theatrical selves and multiple personae with his art. He has held numerous exhibitions and his work is in the permanent collections of top museums worldwide including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Smithsonian Institution and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Udé is very conversant with the worlds of celebrity and fashion and is publisher of the acclaimed aRUDE magazine. He has made the coveted Vanity Fair International Best Dressed List four times (in 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2022 when he was inducted into their hall of fame)

Mr. Udé is author of Nollywood Portraits: A Radical Beauty (published by Skira in 2016), Style Files: The World’s Most Elegantly Dressed (published by HarperCollins in 2008) and Beyond Decorum (published by MIT Press in 2000).

Saul Appelbaum reflects with Udé about his series Nollywood Portraits and contextualizes it in his oeuvre.

Saul Appelbaum: In between your projects Uses of Evidence and the Nollywood Portraits you worked on Sartorial Anarchy which focuses on a mashup of cultural signifiers in formalwear. It seems like clothing and fashion are a common thread in your body of work. Sartorial Anarchy and the Nollywood Portraits give more significance to “on set” clothing with the kind of work a fashion stylist or editor would do. With the Use of Evidence domestic portraits, while clothing may come into play, it’s more what one would wear naturally or casually. With the Nollywood portraits, you're emphasizing a high degree of formal elegance, not only the expressiveness in the poses and set design, but also what people wear.

Iké Udé: Sartorial Anarchy, just as the name implies, is a seemingly disagreeable marriage of the sartorial and the anarchic. But there is a tension between the two words. Sartorial often conjures pictures of splendor and elegance and beauty, and anarchy conjures pictures of disregard to rules, against authority and what have you. So, I aimed for a way to reconcile the differences of these dissimilar opposing meanings. 

Image

Fashion, for lack of a better word, is the index of culture, a marker or a box. What I mean by that, is for example, if you see somebody wearing bell bottoms, he/she tends to evoke a certain period in history, mostly the 70s. If you see platform shoes, it takes you back to the 70s. If you see a Marcel Wave for the hair, especially women, you’re looking at the 1920s. When you look at cowboy hats, you think Western films. If you look at a kaftan, it takes you back to Arabia. If you look at certain kinds of fabric prints, it takes you back to West Africa. If you look at papal attire, it takes you to the Vatican.

So, these are all cultural indexes, they're all markers. It has nothing to do with fashion designers at all—the designers are very incidental. It's more profound just to think that, for example, in, say, very strict Muslim countries, if a woman wants to go out without a headdress, or wear a mini skirt, or a bikini in public, she will be flogged or jailed. That instant tells you how important fashion is and has nothing to do with designers, but a consequential cultural force.

Now, you take, for example, the august figure of the Pope at the Vatican. If you were to trade in his papal garb and dress him like a punk rocker or a rapper, people would think that the Pope has lost his mind. Might even declare him a ripe candidate for asylum. Just by the mere fact that the Pope changed from his papal garb to a hip hop attire. Just that gesture alone is grounds to disqualify him as a Pope. Now, is that about fashion design? Obviously not! It's about the meaning that we invest in what we wear, isn't it? It's not a joke at that point, right? In certain countries, if a man cross dresses, that person can be lynched by a mob. If Obama was to wear Michelle's clothes, what would happen to Obama? He would probably be declared insane or even worse. That, right there, tells you how much weight of meaning we invest in garments. It's not a joke. It's not about so called designers.

So that's why I'm a bit reluctant to use the word fashion, because it's too generic a word, even vague and ill defined. Perhaps the nomenclature commercial fashion is more appropriate, to better distinguish from fashion as cultural markers. Even the fact that, for example, people are clothed in death. That when we do this funeral, the person is dressed, coiffed, everything. Does a dead person necessarily need to be clothed? I don't think so. But there's something about the naked body that we're not very comfortable with. That from time immemorial or somehow, we always clothed the body. That is very profound, my dear.

It's not about the fashion system, about brands. I call fashion our cultural skin or cultural epidermis because we have the biological epidermis, the skin, and we cloth the skin with our cultural epidermis that we call fashion. So, in a way, this is a type of skin, because that's oftentimes how we are seen. Even when we are sleeping, we have nightgowns, we have pajamas. We simply won’t let the body be exposed, even within the comforts of our respective, cozy living quarters.

With Sartorial Anarchy, I was looking around the landscape of menswear from antiquity to now, to see what men wore several centuries ago! If someone were to wear some of these centuries’ old fashions, now, and walk down the street, the person would be laughed at, even arrested. If I were to take to dressing in the habits of Jefferson, George Washington, or Abraham Lincoln today, I would be laughed at. But during their epoch, it was just perfectly normal to dress that way. I erased the time aspect of menswear, and I also erased geographies. In so doing, posing the question, why can't somebody, the individual, dress as they wish, regardless of geography? When I say geography, I mean cultures. Why can’t one freely quote from different cultures and different time periods as the individual elects to dress? Why do I have to dress according to my time or my culture? So that was the question I was asking myself. And in so doing, I was able to erase all these boundaries and begin anew, as it were, a tabula rasa, to marry all these disparate sartorial elements in each of these self-portraits in order to reconcile their respective differences. And evidently show that all these differences of time and geographies can be reconciled and harmonized. Whereas people see difference as an impasse, an obstacle, I see it as a challenge and potential for reconciliation.

Fashion, for lack of a better word, is the index of culture, a marker or a box. What I mean by that, is for example, if you see somebody wearing bell bottoms, he/she tends to evoke a certain period in history, mostly the 70s. If you see platform shoes, it takes you back to the 70s. If you see a Marcel Wave for the hair, especially women, you’re looking at the 1920s. When you look at cowboy hats, you think Western films. If you look at a kaftan, it takes you back to Arabia. If you look at certain kinds of fabric prints, it takes you back to West Africa. If you look at papal attire, it takes you to the Vatican.

So, these are all cultural indexes, they're all markers. It has nothing to do with fashion designers at all—the designers are very incidental. It's more profound just to think that, for example, in, say, very strict Muslim countries, if a woman wants to go out without a headdress, or wear a mini skirt, or a bikini in public, she will be flogged or jailed. That instant tells you how important fashion is and has nothing to do with designers, but a consequential cultural force.

Now, you take, for example, the august figure of the Pope at the Vatican. If you were to trade in his papal garb and dress him like a punk rocker or a rapper, people would think that the Pope has lost his mind. Might even declare him a ripe candidate for asylum. Just by the mere fact that the Pope changed from his papal garb to a hip hop attire. Just that gesture alone is grounds to disqualify him as a Pope. Now, is that about fashion design? Obviously not! It's about the meaning that we invest in what we wear, isn't it? It's not a joke at that point, right? In certain countries, if a man cross dresses, that person can be lynched by a mob. If Obama was to wear Michelle's clothes, what would happen to Obama? He would probably be declared insane or even worse. That, right there, tells you how much weight of meaning we invest in garments. It's not a joke. It's not about so called designers.

So that's why I'm a bit reluctant to use the word fashion, because it's too generic a word, even vague and ill defined. Perhaps the nomenclature commercial fashion is more appropriate, to better distinguish from fashion as cultural markers. Even the fact that, for example, people are clothed in death. That when we do this funeral, the person is dressed, coiffed, everything. Does a dead person necessarily need to be clothed? I don't think so. But there's something about the naked body that we're not very comfortable with. That from time immemorial or somehow, we always clothed the body. That is very profound, my dear.

It's not about the fashion system, about brands. I call fashion our cultural skin or cultural epidermis because we have the biological epidermis, the skin, and we cloth the skin with our cultural epidermis that we call fashion. So, in a way, this is a type of skin, because that's oftentimes how we are seen. Even when we are sleeping, we have nightgowns, we have pajamas. We simply won’t let the body be exposed, even within the comforts of our respective, cozy living quarters.

With Sartorial Anarchy, I was looking around the landscape of menswear from antiquity to now, to see what men wore several centuries ago! If someone were to wear some of these centuries’ old fashions, now, and walk down the street, the person would be laughed at, even arrested. If I were to take to dressing in the habits of Jefferson, George Washington, or Abraham Lincoln today, I would be laughed at. But during their epoch, it was just perfectly normal to dress that way. I erased the time aspect of menswear, and I also erased geographies. In so doing, posing the question, why can't somebody, the individual, dress as they wish, regardless of geography? When I say geography, I mean cultures. Why can’t one freely quote from different cultures and different time periods as the individual elects to dress? Why do I have to dress according to my time or my culture? So that was the question I was asking myself. And in so doing, I was able to erase all these boundaries and begin anew, as it were, a tabula rasa, to marry all these disparate sartorial elements in each of these self-portraits in order to reconcile their respective differences. And evidently show that all these differences of time and geographies can be reconciled and harmonized. Whereas people see difference as an impasse, an obstacle, I see it as a challenge and potential for reconciliation.

Iké Udé, Sartorial Anarchy, 2013
Iké Udé, Sartorial Anarchy, 2013

Will you speak about your exhibit Uses of Evidence, some of the social, geographic, and cultural obstacles you tackled and possibly reconciled, and how this backdrop feeds into the Nollywood Portraits?

Uses of Evidence was done in ’96 for the Guggenheim Museum. It was a commissioned work and in the collection of the Guggenheim Museum, right away, in 1996. It was the first time, actually, that contemporary African photography was shown in the West on that level. At the time, I was doing hard edge conceptual art/installations. It was an installation that employed photography in a three dimensional fashion. It was a cube in structure, with windows on its four sides. On the outside were collaged images that I culled from various and varied Western media. The stock images of Africa that you see—such as safari, wild animals, chaos, disease, and whatnot. And all these images are true of Africa, but it's extremely lopsided about how the West odiously depicts an entire continent all the time. (One can rightfully say, that the hideous ways that the West negatively portray Africans, is an immeasurable crime against humanity). In contrast, the imageries inside the cube were very quiet, tranquil, domesticated, of domestic lives, civilized and elegant—some were of  family members who were playing polo, cricket, badminton, or just seated in the veranda, relaxing. And some were of Nigerian professionals, such as, designers, authors, etc., together, this interior pictorial narrative formed a jarring, contrast-worthy juxtapostion to the exterior images–the handiwork of the West—that depicted in mayhem, death, sickness, wild animals, etc., of the cube.

And that was more your own upbringing in Nigeria as well, correct? It was modern, tranquil, civilized?

Yes, precisely. That was the Nigeria that I grew up in. I wasn't even aware that Africans were portrayed in such a manner by the Western media.

And was there any carryover from Uses of Evidence to the Nollywood Portraits?

Yes, actually, there is a common thread that runs through that, and differences too. The civilized images in Use of Evidence were archival images that I got from family albums, mostly from my family albums and sometimes some friend/family albums. What I did with the Nollywood Portraits. I made those portraits. They were not archival, they were portraits of contemporary Nigerian society and talents that populate Nollywood, that invented Nollywood single handedly in a DIY fashion that I was celebrating. So the Nollywood Portraits in some ways are the equivalent of the images inside the cube at Uses of Evidence in ’96.

What about the clothing people wear for the Nollywood Portraits?

In the Nollywood Portraits, what people wear is very important, but it’s one element amongst several others. I did request that I want to see them in their very best dressed and nothing less. I didn't want any kind of casual sportswear, or any kind of negligence of attire, because these are Nigerian stars. I wanted to project their stardom and to portray them as the stars they are. So grooming was important, the pose, how the lights were designed and lit, how the sittings were arranged, the gaze—or if you like in the plural—gazes. All those things were brought to bear to inform each of the compositions.

And you did the set design as well?

I did the set designs. Everything in the pictorial frame I did accordingly.  They say that music is the organization of sound towards the beautiful. In my own case, I was organizing the visuals towards the beautiful. All the visual elements were the equivalent of the musical sounds that one uses to design music. Be it the music of Miles Davis or Beethoven or Chopin or Debussy or Schumann or Schubert, Coltrane, Fela or what have you, I was organizing all these visual elements towards the beautiful, in much the same manner as the aforementioned musicians did with their compositions.

The atmosphere is very important in my work. As a picture architect, although the subjects in my portraits are important, they are no more important than the other visual elements that I employ in protagonist roles in order to harmonize the framed. As far as I’m concerned, the so called traditional straight photography, is police reportage. My portraiture is not strictly concerned with or bound by about facts or camera fidelity—it's about art, it's about poetry. Every element in my pictures is employed in harmony with other elements within that rectangle. In that rectangle I’m dutifully bound to create harmonious pictures, regardless of who the subject is.

Will you speak about your exhibit Uses of Evidence, some of the social, geographic, and cultural obstacles you tackled and possibly reconciled, and how this backdrop feeds into the Nollywood Portraits?

Uses of Evidence was done in ’96 for the Guggenheim Museum. It was a commissioned work and in the collection of the Guggenheim Museum, right away, in 1996. It was the first time, actually, that contemporary African photography was shown in the West on that level. At the time, I was doing hard edge conceptual art/installations. It was an installation that employed photography in a three dimensional fashion. It was a cube in structure, with windows on its four sides. On the outside were collaged images that I culled from various and varied Western media. The stock images of Africa that you see—such as safari, wild animals, chaos, disease, and whatnot. And all these images are true of Africa, but it's extremely lopsided about how the West odiously depicts an entire continent all the time. (One can rightfully say, that the hideous ways that the West negatively portray Africans, is an immeasurable crime against humanity). In contrast, the imageries inside the cube were very quiet, tranquil, domesticated, of domestic lives, civilized and elegant—some were of  family members who were playing polo, cricket, badminton, or just seated in the veranda, relaxing. And some were of Nigerian professionals, such as, designers, authors, etc., together, this interior pictorial narrative formed a jarring, contrast-worthy juxtapostion to the exterior images–the handiwork of the West—that depicted in mayhem, death, sickness, wild animals, etc., of the cube.

And that was more your own upbringing in Nigeria as well, correct? It was modern, tranquil, civilized?

Yes, precisely. That was the Nigeria that I grew up in. I wasn't even aware that Africans were portrayed in such a manner by the Western media.

And was there any carryover from Uses of Evidence to the Nollywood Portraits?

Yes, actually, there is a common thread that runs through that, and differences too. The civilized images in Use of Evidence were archival images that I got from family albums, mostly from my family albums and sometimes some friend/family albums. What I did with the Nollywood Portraits. I made those portraits. They were not archival, they were portraits of contemporary Nigerian society and talents that populate Nollywood, that invented Nollywood single handedly in a DIY fashion that I was celebrating. So the Nollywood Portraits in some ways are the equivalent of the images inside the cube at Uses of Evidence in ’96.

What about the clothing people wear for the Nollywood Portraits?

In the Nollywood Portraits, what people wear is very important, but it’s one element amongst several others. I did request that I want to see them in their very best dressed and nothing less. I didn't want any kind of casual sportswear, or any kind of negligence of attire, because these are Nigerian stars. I wanted to project their stardom and to portray them as the stars they are. So grooming was important, the pose, how the lights were designed and lit, how the sittings were arranged, the gaze—or if you like in the plural—gazes. All those things were brought to bear to inform each of the compositions.

And you did the set design as well?

I did the set designs. Everything in the pictorial frame I did accordingly.  They say that music is the organization of sound towards the beautiful. In my own case, I was organizing the visuals towards the beautiful. All the visual elements were the equivalent of the musical sounds that one uses to design music. Be it the music of Miles Davis or Beethoven or Chopin or Debussy or Schumann or Schubert, Coltrane, Fela or what have you, I was organizing all these visual elements towards the beautiful, in much the same manner as the aforementioned musicians did with their compositions.

The atmosphere is very important in my work. As a picture architect, although the subjects in my portraits are important, they are no more important than the other visual elements that I employ in protagonist roles in order to harmonize the framed. As far as I’m concerned, the so called traditional straight photography, is police reportage. My portraiture is not strictly concerned with or bound by about facts or camera fidelity—it's about art, it's about poetry. Every element in my pictures is employed in harmony with other elements within that rectangle. In that rectangle I’m dutifully bound to create harmonious pictures, regardless of who the subject is.

Installation shot of Uses of Evidence, In/sight, African Photography: 1940-Present, Guggenheim Museum, 1996, Exterior detail of installation, and Interior detail of installation
Installation shot of Uses of Evidence, In/sight, African Photography: 1940-Present, Guggenheim Museum, 1996, Exterior detail of installation, and Interior detail of installation

How did you first find out about Nollywood and what was your first impression?

The idea for the Nollywood Portraits first occurred to me when I came across Nollywood as an entity, as an industry, as a cultural phenomenon around 2001. I used to live on the Lower East Side, and it was there I came across the New York Times cover story in print. I saw Nollywood. And I looked closer. I saw Lagos, Nigeria. And I read the article about a movie Industry called Nollywood. I thought maybe it was a misspelling for Bollywood or Hollywood—but it's Nollywood. I read the article, I cut it out and I filed it at the back of my mind. Fast forward, I moved to Chelsea. And this time around, the New Yorker wrote a very New Yorker lengthy article about Nollywood. Then I realized this was not a joke, something was going on there.

Mind you, I had been away from Nigeria for over 30 years. I was in self-imposed exile because I didn't like how the country was run. But equally, I thought that now that something is happening, like Nollywood, something that I would like to be a part of. And if I was a youngster growing up in Nigeria, I probably would not come to New York City. I would probably be part of Nollywood. I saw myself in Nollywood. They're very modish, cocky, very chic, and have a can-do attitude.

I love all of that. I had a sitting-on-the-edge-of-the-bed-revelation. It dawned on me that something profound was happening in Nigeria and a cultural paradigm shift—post the banality of Western safari perspective of Africans and Africa. Something akin to the swinging London of the 1960’s or the Renaissance in Italy. That was when I firmly made up my mind to execute the Nollywood Portraits. Nollywood is a colossal industry, the second largest employer after the government. That's huge. I was awfully proud of them.

When you decided to do your Nollywood Portraits, being away so long, how did you bridge between your life in New York and Nigeria?

I began to ask around and contacted a friend of mine named Helen Jennings. She is a British woman, very versed with what's going on in Nigeria and Africa because she worked for a Nigerian magazine called Arise. I asked her if she knew some people that could help liaison between me and the Nollywood industry. She mentioned three people, and one of them was Osahon Akpata. Osahon went to Columbia University for his MBA, worked for McKinsey, and now he works for a bank in Nigeria.

He said that he loved this project. He liked the idea of putting our people in this dignified high cultural sphere. He signed up, so to speak, for us to do this together. He was the architect, the engineer, the liaison between me and Nollywood. He maintained and kept it running smoothly. Because of him, I was able to go to Nigeria and execute the project.

What did you desire to portray in the portraits?

Again, I saw myself in Nollywood, and it was just a perfect subject for me to do. I love their sense of self. I love their sartorial fluency. But what I'm looking for, a new cosmopolitan picture of Africa, something radically beautiful, something decidedly different from the pathetic, sickly Western safari porn of Africa and Africans, anti-safari optics, anti-provincial, anti-pastoral. Something as hip and stylish as anybody in the East Village or Soho. That was the exact, new cosmopolitan picture of Nigeria that I saw and want to be part of—very modern, post modern, even meta-modern, if you like. I was also answering the question that Baudelaire posed for the French painters of his time, such as Manet. He implored them, saying that he doesn't want them to paint ancient Greeks and Athenians. He wanted them to paint people at the cafes in Paris, people that walked the boulevards, in shiny patent leather shoes, to show how modern we (Parisians of his era) were. Enough with the Greek/Athenian mythologies. Nollywood is the Nigerian equivalent of Baudelairean Paris. I was answering his question in a Nigerian context today.

What’s your next project?

I'm working with Osahon again, he is the project director, so there's a thread here. You can see the trajectory from the Nollywood Portraits now to African American women.

Now we're doing Africans in America. They’re not called African Americans for nothing. They didn't come from Portugal or from Scandinavia. They came or originated from Africa. So, we are building a bridge here, in order to correct and heal what people in academia call forced travel. What a terrible phrase. The Atlantic slave trade was tragic forced travel—the ultimate crime against humanity, an indelible capital sin.

Continental Africans and diasporic Africans don't know each other, and they should. They are the same people basically—despite centuries of geographical remove, psychological and physical scars. As European-Americans feel super comfortable with their European roots, so must African-Americans. European-Americans are very proud to go to Paris, London, etc. But not so with a lot of African Americans, Afro Cubans, Afro Brazilians, etc., largely because of the odious, primitivizing ways that awfully racist Western White folks and institutions portrayed and continue to portray continental Africans. This must obviously change. It's important. Really! That's what we're doing here. It's a very clear, many layered task.

How did you first find out about Nollywood and what was your first impression?

The idea for the Nollywood Portraits first occurred to me when I came across Nollywood as an entity, as an industry, as a cultural phenomenon around 2001. I used to live on the Lower East Side, and it was there I came across the New York Times cover story in print. I saw Nollywood. And I looked closer. I saw Lagos, Nigeria. And I read the article about a movie Industry called Nollywood. I thought maybe it was a misspelling for Bollywood or Hollywood—but it's Nollywood. I read the article, I cut it out and I filed it at the back of my mind. Fast forward, I moved to Chelsea. And this time around, the New Yorker wrote a very New Yorker lengthy article about Nollywood. Then I realized this was not a joke, something was going on there.

Mind you, I had been away from Nigeria for over 30 years. I was in self-imposed exile because I didn't like how the country was run. But equally, I thought that now that something is happening, like Nollywood, something that I would like to be a part of. And if I was a youngster growing up in Nigeria, I probably would not come to New York City. I would probably be part of Nollywood. I saw myself in Nollywood. They're very modish, cocky, very chic, and have a can-do attitude.

I love all of that. I had a sitting-on-the-edge-of-the-bed-revelation. It dawned on me that something profound was happening in Nigeria and a cultural paradigm shift—post the banality of Western safari perspective of Africans and Africa. Something akin to the swinging London of the 1960’s or the Renaissance in Italy. That was when I firmly made up my mind to execute the Nollywood Portraits. Nollywood is a colossal industry, the second largest employer after the government. That's huge. I was awfully proud of them.

When you decided to do your Nollywood Portraits, being away so long, how did you bridge between your life in New York and Nigeria?

I began to ask around and contacted a friend of mine named Helen Jennings. She is a British woman, very versed with what's going on in Nigeria and Africa because she worked for a Nigerian magazine called Arise. I asked her if she knew some people that could help liaison between me and the Nollywood industry. She mentioned three people, and one of them was Osahon Akpata. Osahon went to Columbia University for his MBA, worked for McKinsey, and now he works for a bank in Nigeria.

He said that he loved this project. He liked the idea of putting our people in this dignified high cultural sphere. He signed up, so to speak, for us to do this together. He was the architect, the engineer, the liaison between me and Nollywood. He maintained and kept it running smoothly. Because of him, I was able to go to Nigeria and execute the project.

What did you desire to portray in the portraits?

Again, I saw myself in Nollywood, and it was just a perfect subject for me to do. I love their sense of self. I love their sartorial fluency. But what I'm looking for, a new cosmopolitan picture of Africa, something radically beautiful, something decidedly different from the pathetic, sickly Western safari porn of Africa and Africans, anti-safari optics, anti-provincial, anti-pastoral. Something as hip and stylish as anybody in the East Village or Soho. That was the exact, new cosmopolitan picture of Nigeria that I saw and want to be part of—very modern, post modern, even meta-modern, if you like. I was also answering the question that Baudelaire posed for the French painters of his time, such as Manet. He implored them, saying that he doesn't want them to paint ancient Greeks and Athenians. He wanted them to paint people at the cafes in Paris, people that walked the boulevards, in shiny patent leather shoes, to show how modern we (Parisians of his era) were. Enough with the Greek/Athenian mythologies. Nollywood is the Nigerian equivalent of Baudelairean Paris. I was answering his question in a Nigerian context today.

What’s your next project?

I'm working with Osahon again, he is the project director, so there's a thread here. You can see the trajectory from the Nollywood Portraits now to African American women.

Now we're doing Africans in America. They’re not called African Americans for nothing. They didn't come from Portugal or from Scandinavia. They came or originated from Africa. So, we are building a bridge here, in order to correct and heal what people in academia call forced travel. What a terrible phrase. The Atlantic slave trade was tragic forced travel—the ultimate crime against humanity, an indelible capital sin.

Continental Africans and diasporic Africans don't know each other, and they should. They are the same people basically—despite centuries of geographical remove, psychological and physical scars. As European-Americans feel super comfortable with their European roots, so must African-Americans. European-Americans are very proud to go to Paris, London, etc. But not so with a lot of African Americans, Afro Cubans, Afro Brazilians, etc., largely because of the odious, primitivizing ways that awfully racist Western White folks and institutions portrayed and continue to portray continental Africans. This must obviously change. It's important. Really! That's what we're doing here. It's a very clear, many layered task.

Iké Udé, Nollywood Portraits, 2022
Iké Udé, Nollywood Portraits, 2022

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