STUDIO VISIT: UCHE JAMES-IROHA
by Ladun Ogidan
Uche James–Iroha was born in 1972 and studied sculpture at the University of Port Harcourt, graduating in 1995. A year after graduation, he became interested in photography and has since exhibited extensively in Nigeria and around the world. James-Iroha has been described as the “Leading light of a new generation of Nigerian photographers” by the Prince Claus Fund, a Netherlands-based organization that promotes inter-cultural exchange. In his diverse work, he fuses the creative language of imagery with the documentation of everyday reality to address wide-ranging issues from economic imperialism to the brutal relationships, which exist between races, social class and gender.
I paid the artist a visit at his Maryland home and studio. The silence of his expansive and well-cared-for building consisting of a gallery on the second floor and a workstation converted from an old garage, was broken by the impertinent barks of his enormous guard dogs. James- Iroha reveals that the expressive lines and forms on the walls of his home were scribbled by his close friend and artist Duke Asidere as he takes me to see some of his works being prepared for his upcoming solo show Power and Powers at the Omenka Gallery this December. This new series also forms part of Omenka’s presentation at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair taking place this year in London. According to the artist:
These are images that explore the dark and unprogressive romance in Nigeria between political power and electrical power distribution. Electricity is still a big issue in Nigeria, by far the most populous nation in the continent with vast human and material resources and enormous potentials. Marred by erratic power supply the nation is caught in the web of deceit where political office seekers clearly use the promise of “light” as the most effective bait. It is interesting to know that tons of white elephant projects, which include a cashless economic system and automated rail transport, are in the works gulping mammoth budgets but will all depend on an efficient electrical supply system.
James-Iroha is the director of Photo Garage, which offers an indigenous platform for domestic and global intellectual photography exchanges. He is also the director of Depth of Field (DOF), a photography collective based in Lagos. He has been honoured with the Elan Prize at the African Photography Encounters in Mali, 2005 for his work, Fire, Flesh, and Blood, and the Prince Claus Award, 2008 for his work, the promotion of photography as an art form in Nigeria and his support for young artists.
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