Chioma Obiegbu is a Nigerian visual artist based in New York and Learon Coleman is a photographer based in New Jersey, they collaborate frequently as a duo. Chioma is exploring the arts as a creative director and editorial designer whilst pursuing her career as a model and visual artist, simultaneously she is a full-time college student majoring in Health Sciences. Whilst working as a photographer, whose work focuses on the glory of blackness, Learon is also a full-time student majoring in Classics.
Their current collaboration is a photo series titled "Ghana Must Go", and the following excerpt forms a part of the knowledge that they are sharing with those who don't know the history and cultural significance of Ghana Must Go bags:
"It all began in 1983 Nigeria when an exodus of over 2 million West African immigrants (mostly Ghanaians) transpired. This was due to socio-economic hardships in Nigeria which occurred in 1983 when oil prices plummeted. Being an oil-rich country, Nigeria had the luxury of economic benefits during an oil boom in the 1970s. This provided job opportunities that lured neighboring countries in search of better lives. Unfortunately, it was short-lived and the economy weakened, instigating the “Ghana Must Go” revolution. This was an extremely difficult time as many who departed Nigeria were denied entry into other countries (because of their reluctance to an influx of immigrants). As a result, expelled immigrants were forced to camp in the middle of the borders of Nigeria & Benin Republic. Even worse, some Ghanaians drowned in severely crowded boats, traveling by sea. Incidentally, in 1969, Ghana also forcefully expelled hundreds of thousands of immigrants from its country due to an economic crisis. For some, this was believed to be an act of retaliation. However, the relationship between Nigeria & Ghana has since been strengthened and migration was then named “Ghana Must Go”." - Source: Olaleye, D. The London School of Economics & Political Science.
What inspired the “Ghana Must Go” shoot?
Chioma: The “Ghana Must Go” project was inspired by a trend in NY where people carried Ghana Must Go bags with a brand name or logo stamped on them. The first time I saw that I was confused and upset so I decided to use my voice creatively to speak about it and educate people on the origin and history of these bags now seen in fashion.
Other than reclaiming black history, why was it important to you both to share the narrative of this shoot?
As artists, using our creative voices is key to expressing our intentions and opinions. It was absolutely important to share the narrative of “Ghana Must Go” because we believed that it was necessary to tell our story and educate our viewers. This was vital especially because it was crossing over from the African diaspora into other races, so we felt the need to inform people that these bags emerged from Africa and is not an original fabric/design made by these brands [Topshop, Opening Ceremony and Louis Vuitton, etc.].
Chioma, how did involving your mother as a seamstress come about?
Well, when I had the idea in my mind, I knew exactly how I wanted it, so I had the intention of making the attire by myself with my mother’s assistance. At first, when I discussed the idea with her, she simply guided me on what steps to take when making the attire, but as we got deeper into the creative process, I noticed a spark in her that I don’t often see. It was a creative adventure for both of us because it was something new, unconventional, and challenging, so we were both excited. It was the first time we creatively merged our ideas and skills on this level, it was indeed a special project for us.
How often do you work on shoots together and how did you form your collaborative partnership?
Learon: Our collaborative partnership began with a friendship built after a successful test shoot. She helped me cast models for a particular project and from there, we began sharing goals and exchanging ideas with each other. They were just plans until she took the initiative of accomplishing a vision she had which we called “Black Sisterhood”. I helped her develop the idea and bring it to life and at that very moment of execution, we knew in our guts that this was it, this was meant for us. Since then, we’ve been working on each other’s ideas and putting in our absolute best. So far, we have completed 11 projects in 7 months, growing and learning from each other and our experiences. Now, it’s almost like we can read each other’s minds, that’s how synchronized we are.
What is the deepest intention of your work?
Chioma: My deepest intention is to spread love and inspire people even in the littlest ways possible. To share my culture and the extraordinary experience of being black, and to encourage an eco-friendly lifestyle to create a sustainable future. I want my art to spark minds and influence positivity in people’s lives. I want it to be a reminder that the mind is truly without limitation. Learon: My deepest intention as a photographer is to impact change in people’s lives positively, no matter how little it may be. I want my art to open up our hearts to each other and our eyes to what’s really around us. I want to uplift my people and show them the light that we all uniquely bear inside of us. This is beyond me, this is to push the envelope of our culture across the world.
Seamstress: Ms. Rose Obiegbu
Designer, creative director, sewing assistant & stylist: Chioma Obiegbu
Photographer: Learon Coleman
Model: Fatimat Ayinde