Blood and guts in Nollywood

The multilayered reality of the Nigerian film industry comes to life in photographer Pieter Hugo’s new body of work. Nollywood is the third-largest film industry in the world, producing movies on its own terms, telling stories that appeal to and reflect the lives of its public: it is a rare instance of self-representation in Africa. Stars are local actors; plots confront the public with familiar situations of romance, comedy, witchcraft, bribery, prostitution.

Hugo has been increasingly intrigued, in his travels through West Africa, by this hyperactive industry.

His first attempt to photograph on film sets documenting these scenes failed to produce pictures that fully mirrored their intensity. He then decided to bring his interpretation of these staged realities into another realm by assembling a team of 40 actors and assistants. He asked them to recreate the stereotypical myths and symbols that characterise Nollywood productions, reproducing the dynamic of movie sets.

The tableaux of the series confront us with a verisimilar world: the situations are clearly surreal but they could be real on a set; furthermore, they are rooted in the local symbolic imaginary. The boundaries between documentary and fiction become very fluid and we are left wondering if our perceptions of the real world are real.

Hugo is the winner of the KLM Paul Huf Award 2008 and as part of his prize will have a solo exhibition at Foam_Fotografiemuseum in Amsterdam in September. He is also the Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Art 2007, with an exhibition touring South Africa until July this year. In May Hugo’s work will be included in the Tate Gallery’s exhibition, Street & Studio: An Urban History of Photography. Later this year his photography will be shown at the Rencontres d’Arles Photography Festival in Arles, France.

The exhibition Nollywood is presented in association with Michael Stevenson and runs until June 6 at the Warren Siebrits Gallery, 140 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood. Tel: 011 327 0000

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