By Isabelle Edwards
“I don’t believe in lectures. I find them quite dishonest and boring.”
These first words, spoken by Iké Udé, a Nigerian fashion photographer from New York City, were followed by light laughter and murmurs of agreement, on Thursday, March 26 in the Nott Memorial. It is true, lectures can be quite boring.
But Udé quickly told us that he would much rather have a conversation with us than lecture to us. It became quite clear to the audience that Udé’s eccentricity goes far beyond his hair and taste in clothing. Instead, Udé is set on bringing issues such as the hypocrisy within fashion to our attention.
Udé’s career tackles these issues. In 1994, Udé did the “Cover Girl Project,” which highlighted the exclusionary practices of mainstream magazines. He created a series of images of himself on the cover of well-known fashion magazines.
He felt that this caused both an inquiry and critique regarding fashion magazines’ practices, such as only showing women who fit specific aesthetics.
Likewise, Udé’s project “Beyond Decorum,” brought forth the hypocrisy of how men’s business clothes can be implored as masks to dress up the transgressions of every day life.
When asked about his own fashion, he immediately distinguished the difference between style and fashion. He noted that fashion changes every six months and can make women feel insecure if they are not keeping up with the latest trends. “How can you find a new argument [for what is fashionable] every six months?” he rhetorically asked the audience. “I don’t like that. It’s dishonest.”
He noted that his own personal style is based off of how he feels. “We respond to color, fabric, material,” he stated. He further noted that fashion has dark sides, such as its ability to establish hierarchies within society.
He pointed out that often, especially in New York City, those who wear more fashionable and expensive clothes are more likely to get a table in a classy restaurant. He then stated, “Is it right or wrong? I don’t think fashion has room for ethical sympathy.”
When questioned about how his Nigerian background affected his work, Udé said that his background does not dominate it. “I’m not what you call an Africanist. I’m an individualist, really.” When asked by an audience member whether he considered himself to be “a Nigerian who is also a photographer or a photographer who is also Nigerian,” Udé made it clear that people can be inspired by their roots without being defined by them.
When asked if he had been an artist all his life, Udé responded with a slight smile. “You could say that,” he answered.
Iké Udé proved to be quite an interesting speaker. His strong opinions about the fashion industry and society challenged the audience to question their previous ideas and to re-evaluate fashion and photography in a new light.
Ude’s work can be found on the second floor of the Nott in an exhibition titled “African Photography, For Whose Eyes?”