aRUDE — The Argument is Made: A New Radical Economy — Iké Udé’s Nollywood Portraits

Iké Udé, “The School of Nollywood, 2014-2016”, Nollywood Portraits: A Radical Beauty, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago

Every exchange is in some way and unprincipled negotiation. The success or failure of any negotiation is measured as set up against how much one party gets compared to how much the other party does not get. While the details are variable, the one constant is the idea of ‘economy’, the currency of negotiation, by which each participant is attempting to get the most, while preserving as much of their asset as possible. Some assets are tangible, material – money, property – while others are ephemeral, immeasurable – a theory or idea.

Beverly Naya, Iké Udé, 2014-2016

“[T]his is … a grand, historical project that is designed for timelessness. We are just now, in the nascent stage of its reception.” — From “Life Master portraitist, Iké Udé, explores Nollywood’s radical beauty with 64 portraits of personalities in the industry”, Ventures Africa

With every exchange, there is a sharing, giving and taking, a kind of quantum entanglement in which people and/or entities are connected by invisible forces which pull them together and propel them apart, in varying degrees. Every exchange is unique, situational, limited in space and time, the outcome of which is only known over time. The space in which any negotiation takes place can be thought of as a framework, the place in which the actual and imagined shaping of ideas takes place, and every framework is limited in space and time.


Every work of art is a kind of exchange, a proposition; a framework in which an idea is set forth, and an argument is made. The viewer becomes participant once the artwork is observed. The mind immediately sets out to understand the artwork, and so doing, the observer sets new interpretations into motion, gives birth to new meanings, which then transmute into new ideas. Although the artwork remains fixed in the act of its being, its *selfhood*, through the process – of creation, display, observation, interpretation – new ideas are born and set into motion. This exchange between artwork and observer, of transmission (of message) and interpretation (of meaning), is at its essence, a negotiation. In this scenario, the concept, idea or message is the currency.

Tunde Kelani, Iké Udé, 2014-2016

As with any good argument, the more concise (whether image, language, line or music) the more successful the argument. The creator sets forth an idea, one that first exists inside the maker’s mind, which is released on the canvas, on the paper, page, stage. That idea is activated only by and through the observer’s thought of it. Much like the observer effect in Quantum Physics, the object under observation will undergo a different interpretation depending on the observer’s perspective, and changed each time it is considered.

Photography is the art that makes the most effective argument for and/or against the *idea* of time, the notion of it, as it is the art which most effectively *stops* time. The lens records a slice of time, a sliver of history, and that image is *captured*, (af)fixed on a surface. Whether on paper or a computer screen, a photograph is both metaphor and memento, an object which represents something ‘occurred’ as well as something ‘obtained’, both the thought of the thing, and the thing itself. Every photograph sets the notion of  *reality* and *materiality* into question, making the argument that they are fleeting notions, that *knowledge* is but an illusion, and that *time* is as mutable as it is measurable.

Alexx Ekubo, Iké Udé, 2014-2016, “The evolution of Nollywood in pictures”, CNN African Voices

The power of a great photograph lies not in its *reflection* of reality, but the *subversion* of it: in its active grappling with the slippery concepts of Reality, History, Identity, Perception, and Time. Its greatness can be measured up against the strength of its *argument*, in how boldly and brazenly it dares to challenge the notions that we cling to. The *radical* picture holds all that we (think we) know suspended – like an insect trapped in amber – in perpetual intellectual limbo. What makes it *radical* is the degree to which it serves as both document (i.e. “proof” of) and metaphor (a “stand -in”) for existence itself, limited by our interpretation, but, like Time, open to an infinite future of continuous unfolding.



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