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Who Is Iké Udé ? | Biography| Profile| History Of Nigerian-American photographer Iké Udé


American photographer

Iké Udé (born 1964) is a Nigerian-American photographer, performance artist, author and publisher. He is best known for his conceptual photographic portraits that explore issues of representation and sexual, gender, cultural, and stylistic identity. Udé currently lives and works in New York City.



Born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Udé is a dual citizen of the United States and Nigeria. He is the eldest son of a wealthy family. His family dressed up for biweekly portraits, exposing Udé to photography and portraiture at an early age. Udé has said that he knew he was an artist by the age of six, when he developed “a habit of firing at passers-by with a catapult” when he “disapproved of their walk or their way of dress.”

As an adolescent, Udé attended the Government Secondary School, a British boarding school in Afikpo Nigeria. He was a habitué of London before he moved to New York in 1981 to study Media Communications at Hunter College, CUNY. He began his artistic art career in the late 1980s with abstract painting and drawing. Since the 1990s, photography has been Udé’s primary medium.


Early work on paper and paintings

Udé’s paintings and drawings are less well known than his photography, though critics and art historians have recognized his early work. The late Henry Geldzhaler, said of Udé’s paintings and works on paper: “I am touched and amazed at the ways in which he manages to blend invisibly the modernist tradition with his own Nigerian roots. There is never anything forced in the conjunction; air and light seem to be his media.”

Cover Girls

Udé began his Cover Girls series in 1994. Each photograph imitates the cover of a fashion magazine, such as VogueHarper’s BazaarHouse BeautifulParentingCigar AficionadoGQTown & Country, and Sports Illustrated, in which the artist himself is featured as the model. The photographs were consciously stylized, posed, photographed and then paired with type matching that of the respected magazine, so that at first glance, each photograph appears to be an authentic magazine cover. Udé used the magazine cover as a stage to critique the fetishism of the upper class white model and the effects of popular culture on today’s consumerist society. The series was exhibited in 1994 in the New York City gallery Exit Art.


Udé’s black and white series of photographs, Uli, references both high fashion and Uli body art, wall motifs from Udé’s Igbo heritage. The photographs explore the anonymity of the inscribed and disembodied self. Udé’s dynamic use of light, namely the chiaroscuro effect, serves as a critical compositional element in the series.

Beyond Decorum

Udé’s Beyond Decorum series, begun in 1999, juxtaposes photographs of men’s shirts and women’s pumps with suggestive personal advertisements in place of the clothing’s tags. Harold Koda explained that in the series, Udé is “extrapolating the image of the whole man from that one detail.”

With its accompanying book, Beyond Decorum: Photographs by Iké Udé, the series traveled across the United States and Canada. The exhibition was shown at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Portland, Maine; OBORO in Montreal, Canada; Sert Gallery; Carpenter Center at the Harvard University Art Museum; and MAK Museum in Vienna, Austria before traveling for two more years internationally.

Paris Hilton: Fantasy and Simulacrum

Udé’s Paris Hilton: Fantasy and Simulacrum is a conversation between his alter ego, Visconti, and the celebrity Paris Hilton. His exhibition consisted of several mixed media works, assembled with material from gossip blogs, wallpaper samples, photocopies, mirrors, fashion and lifestyle magazines, and pornography sites. Combined, these pieces illustrate the construction of the Paris Hilton phenomenon and invites viewers to question what they really know about fame and the aesthetics of cultural decay. The exhibition was shown in New York’s Stux Gallery in 2008, and then became Udé’s first solo exhibition in Norway in 2009 at the Stenersen Museum in Oslo.


Sartorial Anarchy

Udé’s portraits, most notably those in Sartorial Anarchy, are a combination of wit and historicism. These works possess a contemporary haute couture vibe, or what New York Times art critic Roberta Smith refers to as “irreverent, cultural polyglot self-portraits”. In a review for, Jean Dykstra writes, “As much as identity is a cultural construct, it’s also an individual creation, and few people have fashioned a self with as much flourish as Iké Udé.” In an interview with Monica Miller, Udé said his purpose for creating Sartorial Anarchy was that “Medium-wise, I saw and felt a great need to push the language of photography forward, not at all satisfied by the prevailing old conservative approach and mentality that still obtains massively. I needed a robust visual vocabulary that is very particular, that I own and is instantly recognizable.” Udé believes that despite today’s level of globalization, people continue to dress according to their particular culture and lack “global conversation sartorially.”

Sartorial Anarchy is at once a reference to and departure from dandyism, in what has been described as “post-dandyism.” Udé’s conceptual use of historical and contemporary clothing attempts to catalog culture rather than to merely reflect fashion trends. Udé constructs the costumes, props and his own pose as a still life, which is then photographed by a “paid-hand.” Udé paints the backgrounds for each photograph and completes post-production procedures himself.

The series was exhibited in The Global Africa Project at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York (2010), and in Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum (2013). Udé’s series was also exhibited at the Leila Heller Gallery in Chelsea, New York. Entitled Style and Sympathies, this exhibit presented a selection of his self-portraits from the series.

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Sheldon Museum of Art, the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, have acquired works from Sartorial Anarchy.

The CHIC Index

The CHIC Index is an online anthology of Udé’s portraits that depict stylish people in New York City. The photos show the range of the individual’s signature “looks,” and feature, among others, Geoffrey Bradfield, Robert Verdi, Patrick McDonald, Steven Knoll, Somers Farkas and Jean Shafiroff.


aRUDE magazine

In 1995 Udé created aRUDE magazine, named in homage to the Jamaican rude boys of 1960s London. The magazine is similar to Interview and features conversations with artists, photographers, and designers as well as editorials on fashion, beauty and style. While the magazine began as a print publication, it has been published solely online since 2009.

Style File: The World’s Most Elegantly Dressed

Udé is the author of Style File: The World’s Most Elegantly Dressed, published by Harper Collins in 2008. The volume profiles 55 influential arbiters of style. Style Filefeatures writings and contributions from Valerie Steel, director and chief curator at the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology (F. I. T.), and Harold Koda, the former curator-in-charge of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The publication provides information on all of the 55 women and men profiled, including John Galliano, Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Diane von Furstenberg, Dita Von Teese, and Christian Louboutin.


Fashion versus style

Udé insists on a firm distinction between fashion and style. He believes that “fashion is an uninformed, thrilling desire to be in agreement with the majority, and style is a cool intelligent refusal to disagree.” One of his most quoted aphorisms states that “style is not just about form and substance, it is also the luxurious deliberation of intelligence in the face of boundaries.”

Color and composition

Udé creates harmony through intricate rhythms of color and form. He says, “Color is as close as I get to, say, a Nirvana. Ever since I was a child, color has always—unyieldingly—curated my disposition, informed my artistic temperament. As a visual artist, color transports me into the ether realm of music and poetry.”


Group exhibitions

  • 2005, Beyond Desire: MoMu-Fashion, Museum, Antwerp, Belgium
  • 2010-2013, The Global Africa Project, Museum of Art and Design, New York, NY
  • 2014, The Mask and the Mirror, Leila Heller Gallery, New York, NY
  • 2014, Look At Me: Portraiture from Manet to the Present, Leila Heller Gallery, New York, NY
  • 2014, Close Up: Contemporary Portraiture, Southampton Arts Center, Southampton NY
  • 2015, Self: Portraits of Artists in their Absence, National Academy Museum and School, New York, NY
  • 2015, Personalities: Fantasy and Identity in Photography and New Media, Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, CA
  • 2015, Look At Me, Tropenmuseum / National Museum of World Cultures, Amsterdam
  • 2015-2016, Disguise: Masks and Global African Art, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle WA
  • 2016, Nollywood Portraits: A Radical Beauty, October—December 23, 2016

Solo exhibitions

  • 1994, Let the Artist Live, Exit Art, New York, NY
  • 1996, In/sight: African Photographers 1940–Present, Solomon Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY
  • 1996, Second Johannesburg Biennale: Johannesburg, South Africa
  • 1997, Seventh Havana Biennial: Cuba
  • 1997, Inclusion/Exclusion, Steirischer Herbit 96, Graz, Austria
  • 1996, Double Lives, Textile Museum, Barcelona, Spain
  • 2001-2002, Beyond Decorum: The Photography of Iké Udé, Institute of Contemporary Art, Portland, ME, MAK Contemporary Art, Vienna, Austria, Oboro Contemporary Art, Montreal, Canada, Sert Gallery, Carpenter Center, Harvard University Art Museums, MA University of California at Riverside, California Museum of Photography, CA
  • 2001, Other Aspects, Fifty One Gallery, Antwerp, Belgium
  • 2001, Recess, M.C. Magma Gallery, Milan, Italy
  • 2002, Other Rooms, Other Voices, Stux Gallery, New York, NY
  • 2009, Paris Hilton: Fantasy and Simulacrum, Stenersen Museum, Oslo, Norway
  • 2011, Self: New Photographs, Stux Gallery, New York, NY
  • 2013, Iké Udé: Style and Sympathies, Leila Heller Gallery, New York, NY


  • Beyond Decorum: The Photography of Iké Udé. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000, ISBN 978-0262522809. Edited by Mark H.C. Bessire and Lauri Firstenberg.
  • Style File: The World’s Most Elegantly Dressed. Harper Collins, 2008.
  • Nollywood Portraits: A Radical Beauty. Skira Rizzoli, 2016, ISBN 978-8857232294.



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