After spending much of his adult life in America, visual artist Ima Mfon began to feel self-conscious about his blackness. Increasingly, he found himself in situations where he was either the only black person or treated differently because of the pigment of his skin.
“In my project Nigerian Identity, I attempt to call out that human tendency to see people for just their skin colour, but in the process, I also accentuate the skin and its textures as a way of celebrating the beauty of black skin. I shoot on a plain white background to eliminate any context that is usually associated with photographs of Africans. People hear ‘Nigerian photography’ or ‘African photography’ and automatically expect to see certain scenes, but I want viewers of my work to focus on the actual people in the images,” Iman explains.
Living in cities like Lagos ad New York influence identity differently; while there’s structure and order in the Western art world there’s less rigidity and more freedom in Lagos. Ima’s take on Nigerian identity is that it’s journey, not a specific fact or piece of information. Nigerians are all connected by their shared history and experiences. As a nation, they’ve been through a lot but they stand with their heads held high, regardless of what the world may say about them.
In his Nigerian Identity series, Ima wants viewers to connect with the people photographed and consider what it’s like to be ‘the other’. “These images are emotional, there’s a story in everyone’s eyes,” he says. “Above all else, it’s a reminder that the culture and identity of a people should always be appreciated, respected and honoured.”
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