Iké Udé’s portraits of Genevieve Nnaji

Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

The Iké Udé: Nollywood Portraits Exhibit


Smithsonian National Museum of African Art


Mobile, and Web

The Challenge

The Iké Udé: Nollywood Portraits exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art captures the talent behind Nollywood, Nigeria’s three-billion-dollar film industry that has shaped transcontinental conversations surrounding Black self-representation around the world. The exhibit showcases the power of African identities in Iké Udé’s portraits of the movie stars and filmmakers within the industry. 

The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art wanted to promote the exhibit in an engaging way, and sought to enhance museum-goers' interactive experiences by allowing them to use their mobile phones to remix and customize the Nollywood portraits. The Smithsonian challenged CrossComm to create an app where users could play as creatives do, and wonder –  What if I could go through the artist’s process? 

The front entrance to the Smithsonian Museum of African Art

Our Approach

Creating Artistic Interactions for Museum-Goers

CrossComm designed two interactive web-based applications that allow users to customize objects, backgrounds, and patterns with Iké Udé’s portraits of Genevieve Nnaji and Sadiq Daba.

Using WebGL and the Unity game engine, our team worked with a Smithsonian digital artist to develop digital objects that could be modified in the web-based apps. The challenges of adding three-dimensional assets into a two-dimensional environment called for artistic and technological precision. Working with the artist, CrossComm managed the technical requirements to bring in the forms and colors that ensured the crisp composition of artistic representations in the app. 

CrossComm CEO takes a photo of Nollywood exhibit art piece

The artistic interaction allows museum visitors to intuitively rescale portrait subjects, change backgrounds and patterns, and even add and rotate 3D objects on their mobile device. These dynamic interactions prompt the user to create their own digital work of art.

Developing a Publicly Accessible and Shareable Interface

The Smithsonian requested a publicly accessible interface allowing visitors to come to the museum and easily access and engage with the app. To accomplish this, CrossComm generated a QR code that allowed users to open the web app directly on their mobile phones without requiring any downloads. The QR codes are positioned on placards in the exhibit space near the pieces of artwork used in the app, prompting engagement. 

The Smithsonian also wanted to empower museum goers to share their works of art on social media, which would simultaneously help to promote the exhibit. To that end, the app makes use of a mobile device’s photo sharing features making social media sharing intuitive and easy. The app even features the ability to add hashtags to the remixed artwork before sharing.

Consulting for Intuitive User Design

During the initial stages, CrossComm worked with the Smithsonian to begin the development of an Instagram filter. However, ongoing conversations of art representation and accessibility, as well as evolving Instagram technical capabilities, led to a design pivot. CrossComm suggested they create a web-based platform (accessible via mobile) to create a better user experience with more broad-reaching accessibility. 

Due to the exploratory nature of creating interactions with sometimes-evolving and emerging technology, a user-centric design assessment became a critical component to success. The CrossComm UX team was asked to consult on initial designs and perform a UX audit of the experience to create a more intuitive flow for the set of possible artistic interactions. 

Our designers researched existing AR interaction paradigms established by popular AR apps, like IKEA and Amazon, and infused similar concepts into the design for the exhibit app. Even though the design ultimately pivoted away from being an AR experience, the research still helped to inform the web app’s interactive capabilities. Ultimately, our UX team and developers created a solution that allowed the user to engage their artistic side by repositioning and scaling the Nollywood models, choosing new patterns, and manipulating desired 3D objects.

The Iké Udé: Nollywood Portraits exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art


The interactive web applications were launched with the Iké Udé’s Nollywood Portraits exhibit, which began on February 5, 2022, and extends through February 23, 2023. The web apps can be accessed via QR code in the exhibit. The exhibit app will continue to be part of the ongoing Nollywood Portraits exhibit, allowing users to imagine themselves as artists and share their digital artwork with family and friends.

If you’re interested in taking the next step in your project or idea, we would love to hear from you and discuss whether CrossComm would be the right technology development team for you. Tell us more and receive a free assessment from CrossComm.