Ima Mfon is an editorial and fine-art photographer interested in exploring issues of social and cultural identity.
Ima lives in Lagos, Nigeria, where he was born and raised, but also spends a lot of time in New York City, where he recently earned his Master’s in Photography at the prestigious School of Visual Arts.
When he is not working he enjoys watching Wes Anderson movies and is yet to get tired of listening to the Royal Tenenbaums soundtrack on repeat.
Ima was a recipient of the 2015 Lensculture Emerging Talents Award, his latest project, Nigerian Identity was featured on CNN and also exhibited at the 2015 Lagos Photo Festival in Nigeria.
Artist Statement – Nigerian Identity
Nigerian Identity is a series of photographic portraits of my fellow Nigerians in which all people are presented in a uniform manner: photographed on a white background, looking directly into the lens, and enhanced so that their skin tones are virtually identical. The idea behind this discipline stems from my experiences living in America.
Despite its title, this project is very much a personal one. I do not aim to define “identity” in factual terms for anyone, as this means different things to different people. I only intend to observe and explore my own feelings as they relate to my identity.
In my experience, “Black” is often used as a generic descriptive label. “The angry black guy”, “The new black sitcom”. I see myself as being more than just black.
However, that is usually not how I am perceived in America. Regardless of my unique heritage, I am reduced to being just black. The homogenization of the skin tones in my project is my commentary on the tendency to reduce people to just a color. In these images, the skin tones are rich, deep and beautiful to celebrate our beautiful skin, for which we are often oppressed and marginalized.
Drawing inspiration from photographers who have created typologies of their subjects, including August Sander, Richard Avedon, and J.D ‘Okhai Ojeikere, I use a plain background to eliminate any cultural or ethnic context, whether of urban disrepair or African wilderness. I want to contest the superficial travel or tourist photography approach to peoples who may be unfamiliar to the photographs’ viewers. The square format and plain background allows the viewer to fully engage the subject with their gaze and all the emotions conveyed.
As African culture becomes more mainstream, I find that the line between celebrating and exoticizing African culture is increasingly blurry. To add some clarity to the current discourse, I photograph my subjects in a regal and direct manner. This is my take on beauty and elegance.
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.