Monday, October 4, 2010

Pieter Hugo at IMA

The Nigerian sun is setting as gravel crunches under the feet of running kids. There is about seven of them, and they somehow manage to squish themselves into the cabin of an abandoned 1950s pickup truck. Someone from the tobacco company throws packs of cigarettes in the air, tonight the kids get a pack too.  They fight amongst themselves over who gets the most. “Shhh”, someone says. “The movie is starting.”

Nollywood is Nigeria’s film industry, much like Hollywood it produces feature films and markets them to the public for entertainment. It is a $250 million a year industry, producing around 1000 movies per year, making it the third largest producer of feature films. However in Nollywood all films are produced and marketed within the space of a week and on a shoe string budget of $15000. Satanic demons, vampires, mummies and magic fill Nollywood films, making their characters the stuff of legends amongst Nigerian children. Nollywood is explored further in the work of South African photographer, Pieter Hugo, through his current exhibition  at The Institute of Modern Art.

Pieter Hugo’s ‘Nollywood’ is a series of photographic portraits taken in the epicentre of Nollywood production, Enugu and Asaba, in southern Nigeria. The images were staged and photographed using a medium-format camera, employing a central composition and are Hugo’s interpretations of iconic myths and symbols, which define Nollywood productions. One of the most successful images is ‘Chris Nkulo and Patience Umeh’. They create a macabre image of a Nigerian woman sitting side by side with a devil like creature at a bus stop. The expression the woman wears articulates this is her own demon which she carries inside her.
Chris Nkulo and Patience Umeh, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008
The portraits house lone, solitary characters which stare out at the viewer and social groupings which the viewer plays witness to. In ‘Tarry King Ibuzo’ a slouching mummy stares out from a furniture wasteland. ‘Gabazzini  Zuo’ sees a Nigerian man standing triumphantly over a dead cow, he holds its heart in his hands, the blood staining his black suit. Behind him are the remains of other animals, which we conclude met the same fate, possibly eluding to a modern day vanitas. ‘Izunna Onwe and Uju Mbamalu’ portray a vampire and his victim, the obviously fake pink blood still on her neck. Despite their differences the viewer is aware that all these characters are related,  they resemble some sort of apocalyptic circus.

Tarry King Ibuzo. Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

Gabazzini Zuo. Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

Pieter Hugo himself features in one of the photographs, bringing to mind one of the first breed of contemporary photographers, Cindy Sherman. In this photograph it seems like Hugo is intent on making himself a hero of Nollywood, outfitted in a balaclava and black elbow high rubber gloves, which are reminiscent of Western superheros. However his white bared flesh suggests the  underlying role of the white man in third world social issues.

Pieter Hugo. Enugu, Nigeria, 2009

Like Hugo’s past work which focused on global social issues, especially in Africa and other third world countries, ‘Nollywood’  walks the line between fiction and documentary. Nigerian landscape is visible in the background of the images and the viewer is constantly aware of this. Dilapidating buildings, sparse rural landscapes and Nigerian slums, littered with rubbish peak through each photograph, a reminder of the country’s third world status.

‘Nollywood’ is not subtle, it does not just recreate iconic scenes and characters, it screams them and it is really screaming them. But it is screaming something more as well.  Pieter Hugo's 'Nollywood' is exhibiting at IMA until the 20th of November.

All images are from
bonne journée

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