The photographer Ouka Leele, who died this Tuesday about to turn 65, was one of the eclectic spirits of the Madrilenian scene by standing out with his work of painted photographs in what came to be called “postmodernity”.

Barbara Allende Gil de Biedma, known as Ouka Lele, burst onto the Madrid scene in the early eighties with his photos colored in watercolor. She was one of the protagonists of the Madrid scene and became a reference in contemporary art, for which she received the National Photography Award in 2005.

He was born in Madrid on June 29, 1957, into a family of Bilbao’s upper bourgeoisie, the Allende de Neguri. His father was Gabriel Allende Maíz, a prestigious architect in love with painting; his mother, Victoria Gil de Biedma, sister of the poet Jaime Gil de Biedma. The artist was also a second cousin of politics Hope Aguirre.

Ouka Leele studied at the Sagrado Corazón school in Madrid, where he was steeped in mysticism, and later at Montealto (related to Opus Dei). From a very young age he wrote poetry and painted -the first camera was given to him in his First Communion but he did not use it-.

He studied drawing at the Orsini Academy, with the idea of ​​enrolling in the Faculty of Fine Arts, but in the end he did not get to enter the University. At the age of 19, she decided to pick up a camera because the boyfriend she had at the time forbade her to paint, as he would tell Efeminista in an interview in 2019.

Some of his photographs were included in the book ‘Principle’ (1976), which brought together nine young photographers with a future. He also got his works to appear in specialized magazines in the category of ‘Zoom’ or ‘New lens’.

That same year he met two people who were going to be key in his life, Ceesepe and José Alfonso Morera Ortiz, El Hortelano, two young men dedicated to “underground” comics. Although she first had a closer relationship with Ceesepe, she would later be married to El Hortelano for a few years.

In 1978 the three friends settled in Barcelona for three years. It was there that he came up with the idea to paint the pictures of him.

The magazine ‘Star’, a mythical publication within the underground world, asked him for a color photo for the cover and, since she preferred black and white and never used color, she decided on a very original solution; Taking old postcards from the beginning of the century as a source of inspiration, she retouches her works by hand with strong-colored watercolors, giving the image a surprising strength.

Ouka Leele was the name that El Hortelano chose for an invented star and that she liked. With that name, in 1979, he signed for the first time all the works of his first individual exhibition, at the Spectrum gallery in Barcelona.

‘Peluquerías’ was the generic name of the exhibition, a daring folly with a strong Dada influence. In 1980 she collaborated on the script, editing, photography, production and interpretation of the video ‘Koloroa’, by El Hortelano. Six years later she would appear again as a cabaret singer in the short film that Ceesepe directed in Madrid and entitled “El Bruto”.

After overcoming health problems from lymphoma at age 22, the success of Ouka Leele woke up with the so-called “movida” in Madrid and was chosen as a faithful representative of what was called “postmodernity”. His works fit perfectly with the eclectic spirit of that artistic movement.

His work evolves and surprises critics and audiences with each new show. The strong “garish” colors of his first works softened, the interiors ceased to be a constant in his work and she went abroad with her particular gaze to portray forests and plants. His works are located halfway between painting and photography, they are abstract paintings where composition is as important as color.

In 1987, the Spanish Museum of Contemporary Art (MEAC) dedicated a retrospective to her that collected the ten years of work of this photographer who one day in June of that same year managed to paralyze traffic throughout the center of Madrid to be able to carry out her great mural, “The Cibeles lions”, sponsored by the City Council. That same year she was present at the São Paulo Biennial.

Then would come his first solo book: “Nature alive, nature still” and the catalog of the retrospective exhibition held at the Spanish Museum of Contemporary Art was published.

He also participated in several editions of the Arco art fair, held in Madrid, the first in 1988.

In 1992 he inaugurated in London an individual exhibition of 42 pieces, a retrospective of hand-colored photographs, and in 1993 he participated in Madrid in the Fair for the Liberation of Commercial Spaces towards Art FLECHA 93, sponsored by the group of artists “With Love” to Give a chance to those who are just starting out.

In 1998, he exhibited a retrospective of his work consisting of seventy photographs from 1978-98, at the PhotoEspaña 98 international festival in Madrid.

In 2004 he participated in the ‘Fashion Art’ project, a collection of suits by designer Manuel Fernández decorated with original paintings by different artists, which was presented in several Latin American countries.

The following year he published a book of poems and drawings entitled ‘Floraleza’ and premiered a documentary directed by Rafael Gordon, ‘Ouka Leele’s gaze’. This film is inspired by “My metaphysical garden”, a 300-meter mural.

Ouka Leele. EFE


National Photography Award 2005, Madrid Culture Award 2003 in the Photography sectionhis work is hanging on the walls of galleries and museums in Paris, London, Tokyo or New York.

In 2010 the documentary ‘La Mirada’ (2009) about his work and directed by Rafael Gordon was nominated for best documentary feature film at the Goya. There are two hours of a documentary film, which portrays Ouka Leele almost as in a confession diary.

That same year he received the Isabel Ferrer award and in 2012, the Silver medal from the Community of Madrid and the National Photography Award, Piedad Isla, from the Palencia Provincial Council.

Leele was also recognized for her commissioned portraits, and she has not hesitated to agree to do it for the talk show hosts of the ‘Sálvame’ program.

In 2014, the photographer designed the poster for the exhibition that the EFE Agency organizes on the occasion of its 75th anniversary, fusing past, present and future through the lens of her camera while her daughter María Rosenfeldt acts as a model.

That same year he launched the collection ‘Ouka Leele’s books’ and in 2015 the exhibition ‘Where the light takes me’.

His shows continue year after year. Examples are ‘Cibachromes’ at the Huelva International Photography Festival or ‘Foto Colectania’ in Barcelona.

The artist has identified with the denialists during the coronavirus crisis, stating that “love is the best mask”.

In 2021, together with her daughter and the Picopico firm, they launched a collection of recycled garments or ‘upcycling’ with old robes as raw material. Year in which she participates again in PHotoEspaña with a sample of his early years, at the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid.

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