Nigerian Identity is a photographic project that examines the idea of what it means to be Nigerian. In this unified series of photographic portraits of my fellow Nigerians, all people are presented in a uniform manner: photographed on a white seamless 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.
“Black” has always been 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 the stark, high contrast black and white portraits by French photographer, Valerie Belin, and the rich and elegant head shots by 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. 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 an African living in America, 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 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.