In his latest project, Nigerian Identity, photographer Ima Mfon challenges preconceived notions of African identities with a series of stripped-down portraits.
“Drawing inspiration from photographers who have created typologies of their subjects, including the German August Sander, the American Richard Avedon, and the Nigerian photographer J.D ‘Okhai Ojeikere, I use a plain background to eliminate any cultural or ethnic context, whether of urban disrepair or African wilderness,” the Lagos-born artist writes on his website. “I want to contest the superficial travel or tourist photography approach to peoples who may be unfamiliar to the photographs’ viewers.”
A diverse group of young New York and Texas-based Nigerians served as Ima’s subjects, each of whom he photographed in a uniform manner. He also adjusted the participants’ skin tones so that each person shared the same rich, deep complexion.
This striking edit celebrates a physical feature for which Africans are often oppressed and marginalized, while also calling into question the harmful tendency to reduce an individual’s identity to a color.
“As an African living in America, I find that the line between celebrating and exoticizing African culture is increasingly blurry,” writes Ima. “To add some clarity to the current discourse, I photograph my subjects in an elegant and direct manner. It is my hope that this will create a connection between subject and viewer. It’s also my way of challenging viewers to understand what it is like to be ‘the other.’ Above all else, it is a reminder that the culture and identity of a people should be always be appreciated, respected and honored.”