What does it mean to be Nigerian in America?
For Ima Mfon, a photographer born and raised in Nigeria, it’s about pride – and unity.
When he posted an all-call to Facebook asking for participants of Nigerian heritage to be photographed for a thesis project in New York, the response was overwhelming.
They came from every borough and all lines of work – accountants, consultants, even a custom stationery designer – all bonded by one thing: their Nigerian identity.
“There were so many people, and they didn’t know a thing about me,” he said.
Mfon moved from Nigeria to the United States after high school to attend the University of Texas. He majored in business but chose to pursue a master’s in photography at the New York School of Visual Arts.
In America, he always felt a little different. The series “Nigerian Identity” became an opportunity for introspection. His rich culture isn’t apparent to most people passing him on the street.
“Regardless of my unique heritage, I am reduced to being just black,” he said.
The photographs in his series have a regal, stately quality to them – but they feel personal. He tells all of his subjects to look into the camera as if they were looking at a person, creating a real connection with the viewer.
“A lot of times black people are not necessarily portrayed in the best light in the media,” he says, “I wanted to create pictures that had a sense of pride and elegance to them.”
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Most Nigerian people are very proud of their heritage, Mfon says. When he asked his participants what makes them Nigerian – he got answers like, “my family, my upbringing, my name.”
For now, his series features mostly young people from New York and a few from Texas. He hopes to travel to other countries to find larger populations of Nigerians to include in his work.
Mfon’s series “Nigerian Identity” is on display and for sale at the Klompching Gallery in New York.