Nigerian Identities and The Migrant Series
Ima Mfon and Donna Ruff
March 9 –April 22, 2017
Rick Wester Fine Art is pleased to announce two simultaneous solo exhibitions that reverberate as related, timely and relevant. Seen together, these two bodies of work are active reminders that the personal is political and the glory of the human spirit is rejoiced through overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds.
Ima Mfon, a recent graduate of New York’s School of Visual Arts, is a photographer whose body of work, Nigerian Identity, is a collection of emphatic and straightforward portraits of Nigerian expatriates that demands a face-to-face recognition of the subject. Photographed in high key, high contrast light, Mfon’s rapport with his sitters conveys a luscious regard for their features. “Nigerian identity” has layered meanings as the photographer both identifies with the subjects (a self-portrait is included) and, by photographing them, defines their identity as a group of related individuals. Riffing off the idea of identity card photographs – the most bureaucratic, impersonal and sanitized forms of portraiture – Mfon’s friends and acquaintances surpass the objectivity of passport photos with a humanity and personality that speak beyond the disappearing white borders of the camera’s frames. In an interview with PDN in July 2015 he responded to the question of what is Nigerian identity by saying,
When I said I wanted to do a project that talked about my culture, I got a lot of feedback asking “How will you depict Nigerian culture?” I felt there was an expected idea for what a project dealing with Nigeria should contain, and it caused me to think about what “Nigerian” really meant. I began interviewing Nigerians, and most of their responses to the question “What makes you Nigerian?” were intangible things like their name, family values, work ethic and so on. I began to see a lot of individuality, and I came up with the idea to try to express the individual...The end result is a portrait series that presents images of people devoid of cultural or ethnic context. Everything is shot against a uniform plain background, and I allow each individual to be defined by their unique features, rather than any internal or external racial stereotype.
Donna Ruff’s intricate, labor intensive hand cut templates transform the most pedestrian form of media – the newspaper – into multicultural emblems of humankind’s struggle for safety and shelter. Using the front pages of The New York Times as her canvas, Ruff, a former graphic designer, creates unique patterns comprised of circles and squares configured into lacey overlays based on Moorish architectural and tile designs. Carefully sliced into the layout of the nearly weightless substrate of newsprint, the composition of the motifs allows for information to be removed while also augmenting and furthering the stories’ messages. In a recent statement Ruff wrote,
I started this body of work in 2011, when news of the Arab Spring offered scenes of both struggle and optimism. I chose patterns suggestive of Moorish tile work and screens found in the Middle East and parts of Spain and Africa. Their geometric forms are congruent with the architectural layout of the page itself, and privilege image over text.
For all the news that is fit to print, Ruff finds room to edit, and in so doing, tells a more complete story. The product of her cultural and artistic background, her works are unparalleled and categorically her own inventions.