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This Striking Nigerian Portrait Series Challenges Viewers To See Beyond Skin Color

Ima Mfon's 'Nigerian Identity' photo series calls for the appreciation and respect of Nigerian culture and its many identities.

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."

The project is available for viewing now through November 14 at the SVA Gramercy Gallery in New York and will also be showing at the Lagos Photo Festival starting October 24.

To learn more about Nigerian Identity and Ima Mfon's other works, head here. You can also follow the artist on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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Photo credit should read KELVIN IKPEA/AFP via Getty Images

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