“By design, life is a play of opposites,” says Uzor Ugoala, whose dreamy photographs hang in the balance between two extremes. “Two thoughts, ideas, patterns, phenomena, which contrast in nature but are metaphorically and mysteriously complementary—the existence of one is dependent on the other.”
The Nigerian artist brings his philosophy to life in spare, studious landscapes that feel volatile, changeable, and illusory, despite their underlying symmetry. Punctuated by an anonymous figure and plenty of cryptic symbolism—clocks, keys, mirrors, fire, flowers—his landscapes are often paired with a near-mirror image that illustrates a delicate balance between front and back, land and sky, ally and enemy. “Balance I” and “Balance II” capture the same scene from different angles, as do “Imprint I” and “Imprint II.” The effect of seeing both photographs at once is disorienting, seductive, surreal, and transformative. “I’m drawn to surrealism because it’s a great way to condense several similar thoughts and present them in a way that isn’t decoded at first glance, so you have to look again,” says Uzor.
Viewers may indeed do a double take when they learn that Uzor’s gravity-defying photographs forgo digital manipulation in favor of DIY set design. “I like to get my hands dirty and involved in the process as much as possible,” says Uzor, who loves “the adventure involved in scouting locations” for his work. “As opposed to piecing random visual elements together in Photoshop, I enjoy physically creating the props I work with.” A former medical student, Uzor dropped out of school to pursue a career in fine art, a decision that brought him clarity of purpose and opened the doors to self-discovery. “My heart was never really in medicine,” Uzor tells NOT REAL ART, though he “can be quite systematic” when it comes to his creative projects, a trait he credits to his medical background. “I hardly do anything just randomly,” he says.
Existential questions, central to Uzor’s work, hang in the carefully planned air space between objects: Who am I? What is my purpose? How do I navigate the path that is truest to my calling? Wrestling with these questions, first in medical school and now with a camera in his hand, Uzor dances around the edges of an answer, preserving the mystery but lighting a few lamps as guideposts along the way.
“I like to get my hands dirty and involved in the process as much as possible.” — Uzor Ugoala
All photos published with permission of the artist(s).
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