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Unbelonging — A life split between countries

Nigeria, 2017. (Photograph by Osaretin Ugiagbe)

‘Unbelonging’: A life split between countries

The work of Nigerian-born photographer Osaretin Ugiagbe documents the beauty and sorrows witnessed during a life split between the surging streets of the Bronx and the half-built flyovers of Lagos, Nigeria (population: 20 million and growing).

In 2002, 16-year-old Osaretin left Nigeria for the Bronx, joining his father, who had previously immigrated to the U.S. Fifteen years later, Osaretin maintains an identity firmly planted in both worlds.

In his black-and-white photos, many taken without looking through the camera, Osaretin reacts to movement and shadow, to the faces and bodies around him, both in the Bronx and in trips back to Nigeria. He crafts his images through the inventive use of light, focusing on poignant and compelling themes of displacement and dislocation, and a scrambling humanity looking for something better. Or sometimes just looking.

Osaretin’s artistic path has often been shaped by chance events and encounters. While working in a Bronx hospital several years ago, he discovered a free photo class at the nearby Bronx Documentary Center, and soon became a member of its Bronx Photo League. After taking a required art class at Hostos Community College, Osaretin took up painting as well, developing into an accomplished painter — he was recently accepted at London’s Royal College of Art.

The photos on exhibition at Bronx Documentary Center express Osaretin’s individual path, but also reflect the larger framework of the struggle for cultural identity — unbelonging in the place left, not belonging at the point of arrival. A number of his paintings, which have strongly influenced (and been influenced by) his photographic work, are also on display.

Unbelonging by Osaretin Ugiagbe exhibit on view through Aug. 13 at the Bronx Documentary Center. Artist talk on July 22. It is curated and produced by Cynthia Rivera and Michael Kamber.

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