Is this Nollywood?

With few exceptions, I usually celebrate South African photographers. Among them is Pieter Hugo, whose most recent work, “Nollywood”– a series of portraits recreating what for Hugo represents “archetypical characters” from the southern Nigerian film industry–opens tonight (from 6:00 to 8:00 pm) at Yossi Milo Gallery in Manhattan (525 West 25th Street). Anyway, not everyone is as pleased with Hugo’s portrayal of Nollywood. I received this email last week:

I thought it [is] all [the] way off. Not in a white/black or outsider/insider way, but just off: I don’t get the feeling that Pieter [has] seen or read a single Nollywood thing. As someone who has seen, oh, a 100 of these films (which is admittedly 98 too many), I thought: (a) there are things to appreciate and things not to, and [he does not] seem to get that, (b) what’s the deal with the freaks ‘n fatties theme? particularly seeing as it is completely absent in the films themselves, (c) it’s just a strange, strange perspective on nollywood, in a really un-nice way. I guess I sound like I’m ranting unnecessarily, but it annoyed me that [he’s] being celebrated mildly when in fact it seemed as if [he] should be mildly ignored.

What do you think?

8 thoughts on “Is this Nollywood?

  1. In the few Nollywood movies I’ve watched (I have yet to get through one in full) I have seen pretty crazy acting and story lines, but have never really see costuming like the ones that are portrayed in his photos. The first time I saw the photos that crossed my mind, but I thought maybe I was just watching the wrong Nollywood movies.

  2. Admittedly, there is a lot open to ambiguous interpretation, but ultimately this is art and that’s what art does.

    My training leads me to read (with much approval) the following into Pieter’s work:

    Nollywood is full of extreme situations, dramatic events, exaggerated escapades, and a lot of noise – yes decibels.

    How do you effectively depict all that in still photography without it being a documentary-type reportage? Well you do as Nollywood does. You take a few elements of the reality and you throw in a generous dash of artistic license.

    I find that Nigeria stifles artistic expression and development because we are too busy being defensive all the time. That is when we are not subscribing to the type of contrived and mediocre photography (and art in general) that we have seen ad nauseum in the rest of the world.

    We seem not to understand either subtlety or for that matter real drama in photography.

    I like Pieter’s work, I see it from the point of view of an artist who has some background in theory. One way or another, maybe that’s what the problem is…

  3. @numero unoma: I absolutely agree with your depiction of Nollywood as being ” full of extreme situations, dramatic events, exxagerated escapades……” I also agree with you that a documentary style would’t be able to capture the lurid melodrama that is the engine of Nollywood. However, the problem with Hugo’s work, technically and conceptually brilliant as it is, is the fact that it does not convey the melodrama but presents Nollywood as nothing more than a cinema of freakish sensations. We walk away from the exhibit with a sense of “wow how freakish” rather than with some sort of insight into the conventions/aesthetic/mythology of Nollywood.

  4. I see @numero unoma’s point and love the photos myself. I just would have liked to see whatever movie he was portraying. If I have seen Nollywood movies and was still misled, what is someone who has no idea what Nollywood is going to think? I think representation is ekapa’s point. Maybe they could have called it “inspired by Nollywood” or something to qualify his artistic license.

  5. With this series, I think Hugo is creating his own mythology, a fevered dream of Nollywood industry. The character types portrayed are clearly exaggerations, and his photographic style also partakes in excess—saturated color, strategic poses, etc. While his aesthetic doesn’t match that of a typical Nollywood film –these are not outtakes —I do think there is something beyond sensationalism in his work.

    • @cynthia and @boima: Agreed. Hugo’s work is marvellous in its own right. What I have problems with is that it is presented at this show (which I’ve seen twice) as representing Nollywood in some fashion. As a sometime curator I suppose my objection is with the presentation, the show, the exhibit itself rather than Hugo’s work.

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