Middle East & Africa

Uche Okpa-Iroha
The Plantation Boy

In the fictional narrative Plantation Boy (2012), Irhoa places himself inside imagery from Francis Ford Coppola’s seminal The Godfather (1972). Inflected with humor, the series examines race in society. According to the artist, the 40 images collectively question structures of power and the hegemony of Western culture. This détournement of a cult film demonstrates the extent to which our collective imaginary is manipulated by image and representation. This specific piece marks a major conceptual pivot within the artist’s oeuvre, in terms of both composition and performative character. The work reveals that which was once hidden from view— inequalities of the past and the present. This allows the artist to question representative stereotypes of identity, placing them at the heart of the image. This symbolic presence gives way to a form of recognition. The magical quality of the photographic medium provides the means to confront both history and fiction through reconstruction and re-appropriation.

Uche Okpa Iroha documents the living conditions of those on the margins of society. Beginning his career as a photojournalist in 2005, his striking, double exposed and black and white images depict moving bodies overlaid with natural light, producing images with great depth. He creates atmospheric shots in which questions of body representation become a political paradigm for reading the image. If the omnipresent flux of images in our daily lives reinvents, influences and modifies our self perception as well as our perception of others, then Uche Okpa Irhoa re-appropriates such given identities as a means of critiquing the oversaturation of unnuanced images. He also uses the photographic medium as a means of proposing new performative or choreographed narratives. His work sits at the intersection between fiction and sociology, seeking to deconstruct often truncated visual references perpetuated by the media. He is the director of the experimental Njele Art Station in Harare Zimbabwe and is co-founder of the Invisible Borders collective.