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

Bringing Art To Life in an Interactive Mobile App

Share on:

At the completion of an important project, the CrossComm team headed to the nation's capital to visit the Smithsonian Museum of African Art. We worked with the museum on a companion web app to bring pieces of artist Iké Udé's work to life alongside his exhibit. In a warm gesture, the museum invited our team to visit for a personal guided tour of the exhibit and museum.

Iké Udé is a Nigerian born artist, most widely known for his unique, performative approach to photography. In his Nollywood Portraits exhibit, Udé captures the essence of several stars of Nigeria's massive film industry, referred to as Nollywood. According to the museum, Nollywood was built by Nigerian actors, writers, producers, and directors to tell “home-grown” stories and has played a vital role in how Nigerians and other Africans see themselves and are seen globally. Iké's approach involved first photographing various stars of Nollywood. Then he edited the photos by adding stylistic details, vibrant colors and out of place objects. 

“He thinks like a painter, and you can see that in the way in which he actually is creating all this,” says Karen E. Milbourne, PhD, Senior Curator and Acting Head of Knowledge Production. 

All this culminates into a bold statement about the beauty and power of African identities—a statement that amazed the subjects of the art as they saw the final pieces. 

“You’ll realize the incredible diversity in the poses,” Milbourne adds. “They had no idea what it was going to look like and then they got their portraits and it was this exciting thing about how Iké found a ferocity in them, or a vulnerability in them.”

This is where the CrossComm App comes into play. Using several of Udé's portraits, we created an interactive mobile web experience, launched via QR codes around the exhibit. The tool allowed guests to shape the portraits into their own art by changing backgrounds, colors, and accent objects. Interactive digital platforms can inspire engagement past the traditional museum experience, and the more museum-goers engage with the art, the more they can empathize with the subjects in Iké’s portraits.

Don takes photo Smithsonian Portfolio

The CrossComm team tours the Iké Udé Nollywood Portraits exhibit

For our team, it was so rewarding to finally see in person how our app integrated with the exhibit. Our team had worked on digital versions of the photographs, accent pieces, and backgrounds for months, but to see the completed pieces was special. To see it all in context with the application brought it all together for us. We are so proud to help the Smithsonian Museum of African Art showcase such an important piece of culture.