Interview with Uche Okpa-Iroha, Two Time Winner of the Seydou Keïta Award at the Bamako Encounters, African Biennale of Photography
The Plantation Boy #1, 2012
As an opening ritual, first a question about your photographic practice: how would you define it?
U.O-I.: My work reflects interventions in the social, economic and political space and in context blurs borders in an attempt to question age long stereotypes and parochial representations with regards to Africa.
Can you tell us about your artistic process from a technical point of view?
U.O-I.: My work explores re-enactments, the concept of intrusion and mimicry, performance, catharsis and a study of portraiture all executed in the photography studio and merged with original templates from a cinematic dialogue. Thus my work represents the subjective representation of the presence of an omission.
What project are you working on now?
U.O-I.: It’s called “Given A Disposition” based on the Hollywood movie American Gangster by Ridley Scott.
As a Nigerian photographer, why did you choose American cinema, and more specifically The Godfather, in your The Plantation Boy series that questions how movies affect the individual and society?
U.O-I.: Hollywood is a phenomenon and whatever comes out from there reverberates across the world and impacts thoughts, lives and politics etc. directly and indirectly. A lot of ideological and representational elements are embedded within its productions which can apply to any society, this interests me. I see imbalances with regards to race, gender and power structures. I am keen to examine these imbalances using my photography practice.
The Godfather is one of the best films ever made in human history as far as I’m concerned. It’s an iconic movie and a masterpiece. I wanted to pay tribute to a well-made movie at its 40th anniversary in 2012. The movie’s central theme is the family and the family stands for identity and form of representation in any society. I had to look beyond the perverse culture of violence (in the Italian sub culture) in order to question the representation of the “Other” which most people who have seen the movie will overlook.
Beyond the conceptual approach, "The Plantation Boy" is not devoid of humor. How important is humor to you?
U.O-I: Satire, catharsis are forms of art. So it was important I use humor. It was deliberate because I wanted to redirect and make people laugh. This time it wasn’t about bloodletting and all the killings. But more about reflection on the way we perceive “others,” often seen as deviant or marginal communities.
Uche Okpa-Iroha's work will be presented at the upcoming edition of Paris Photo 2018, Booth D07. His series, The Plantation Boy, will be featured in its entirety in the Prismes Sector.