Pieter Hugo


15 January - 21 February 2009

Michael Stevenson is pleased to present a solo exhibition of photographs by Pieter Hugo.

In the Nollywood series, Hugo explores the multilayered reality of the Nigerian film industry. Photographs from the series were included on the exhibition Disguise: The art of attracting and deflecting attention at Michael Stevenson in May 2008. Hugo has subsequently returned to Nigeria to extend and deepen this body of work, and the series will be published in book form by Prestel in October 2009.

Nollywood is the third largest film industry in the world, releasing between 500 and 1 000 movies each year. It produces 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 on such a scale in Africa. The continent has a rich tradition of story-telling that has been expressed abundantly through oral and written fiction, but has never been conveyed through the popular media before. Stars are local actors; plots confront the public with familiar situations of romance, comedy, witchcraft, bribery, prostitution. The narrative is overdramatic, deprived of happy endings, tragic. The aesthetic is loud, violent, excessive; nothing is said, everything is shouted.

In his travels through West Africa, Hugo became increasingly intrigued by this hyperactive industry, in constant production. He compiled a list of the iconic images and scenes that had attracted his attention, and imagined photographing in these settings. Initial attempts to photograph on actual film sets however failed, in Hugo's mind, to capture the intensity of the situations. He decided to take his interpretation of these staged realities into another realm by assembling a team of 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, although 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 whether our perceptions of the real world are indeed real.

In 2008 Hugo was the winner of the KLM Paul Huf Award and the Arles Discovery Award at the Rencontres d'Arles Photography Festival in France. He had solo exhibitions at Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam, the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool and Ffotogallery in Penarth, Wales. Group shows in 2008 included Street & Studio: An urban history of photography at Tate Modern, London, and Make Art/Stop AIDS at the Fowler Museum, UCLA. Hugo was the Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Art in 2007.

Click here to read Nollywood Confidential by Stacy Harding.

The exhibition will open on Thursday 15 January, 6-8pm. Hugo will give a walkabout in aid of the Friends of the National Gallery on Friday 16 January at 11am; cost is R20 (members and non-members). The gallery is open from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, and Saturday from 10am to 1pm.