Pieter Hugo (B. 1976, Johannesburg) currently lives in Cape Town. Major museum exhibitions of his work have taken place at The Hague Museum of Photography; Musée de l'Elysée, Lausanne; Ludwig Museum, Budapest; Fotografiska, Stockholm; MAXXI, Rome; and the Institute of Modern Art Brisbane, among others. Hugo has participated in numerous group exhibitions at institutions including Tate Modern, the Folkwang Museum, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, and the São Paulo Bienal. His work is represented in prominent public and private collections, among them the Museum of Modern Art, V&A Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, J. Paul Getty Museum, Walther Collection, Deutsche Börse Group, Folkwang Museum and Huis Marseille. Hugo is represented by Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and STEVENSON, Cape Town and Johannesburg.
“You call a writer . . . and you say: ‘Sonny I want a script . . . Then Sonny will say, ‘what kind of script?’ And I say, ‘Sonny you are the expert, all I need is car crash [sic], a coffin and a vampire or ghost—these I need for suspense and action—the rest is up to you. But I need it in two days, I can pay you 500.” So spins a tale of Nollywood, Nigeria’s film industry, delivered by a Nigerian director at an academic conference on the subject of Nollywood held in North Hollywood, California, in 2006. The panel, as recounted by Chris Abani in his essay in the 2009 monograph containing Pieter Hugo’s (b. 1976) Nollywood photographs, exudes theatricality: the African scenario is auto-exoticized by the Nigerians at the conference (including the unnamed director, who switches from perfect English in private conversation to Nigerian-accented vernacular before an American audience) and romanticized as authentic—“real guerilla filmmaking”—by the Hollywood types in attendance. Nollywood films, shot with inexpensive, accessible technology, replete with local symbology, and produced without funding from the West, are a fine medium for expressing Nigerian self-consciousness. Yet removed from local context, they become transformed, like everything else, by the fetishizing “Western” gaze.
Like the director’s performative gestures, Hugo’s Nollywood photographs anticipate and exploit the gaze of the international art public, which expects (or desires?) imagery from the Dark Continent to provide a confrontation with the uncanny Other. In the phantasmagoria of the Western foreigner who views Nigeria obliquely—somewhere between sensationalist news à la “Bring Back Our Girls” and Nollywood films—the absurd and horrific are indigenous to the African cultural landscape. Hugo’s photography cultivates this hybrid consciousness, conjuring a haunting encounter between hell and earth that is both imaginary and real, Nigerian and Other.