Brothers Uwakmfonabasi and Mokutimabasi Nyong say moving to Hamilton in 2017 was “the best thing” that happened to them.
The 21-year-olds – also known as Whak and Mo – say it was while attending Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School that they decided they wanted to pursue a career as a model.
Fast forward to 2021, and a portrait of the identical twins was unveiled last weekend in downtown Toronto – a 21-foot-tall art installation on 330 Bay St., part of ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art 2021-2022. The photo shows the two brothers with his colleague Angaer Arop and was taken by Toronto-based photographer Jorian Charlton.
“For me, it just means everything,” Mo told CBC Hamilton.
“When kids like me see someone like them 70 feet tall, plus how striking the picture is, like I want it to show them that they could do anything, make them say, ‘Oh , that guy looks like me. , so if he can fly, I can fly. ‘”
Mo said the photo was one of the first they took after signing with modeling agency NEXT Canada in October 2020.
Whak and Mo said it took a lot of hard work and a lot of people saying “no” before they reached this point in their careers.
The brothers first moved to Canada from Nigeria in 2015 and called Mississauga home for two years before moving to Hamilton.
Mo remembered that they were not popular kids in high school.
“We were like in the middle, I would say the transition between the popular kids and the kids who were not popular,” he said.
How it all started
Whak said after they moved to Hamilton that one of their cousins got a camera for his birthday and they started taking pictures in their backyard.
“We just wanted to go out and take pictures. We wanted to post those pictures on Instagram, and people at school always liked them,” Whak said.
“We were just having fun … but we realized people liked them [and] we did it for fun anyway, so we just kept at it. And then photographers in the city started reaching out to take pictures. “
He said they got their first modeling appearance at a Supercrawl event, the same year they moved to Hamilton.
But 2017 also brought them some disappointments.
“We went to Toronto in 2017 and went to a bunch of modeling agencies and they all said ‘no,'” Mo recalled.
“But we are models, so we just kept going.”
Whak said they are trying to “bring representation as black people doing modeling. We want to make people understand that it’s an actual skill, not just as a beautiful face.”
“I feel like we’re bringing crafts to the modeling because, in my opinion, it’s a craft, it’s an art form, a bit like painting, or I feel it’s like shopping. [but] even harder because I have to convey these messages, but only in one image. Being able to pose his body in a way so that it can convey a feeling to someone looking at a photo is a skill and I feel that ability should be respected more, ”he said.
Their message to young people is to keep going.
“Never stop, just believe in yourself, believe in your ideas and what you do, and keep going,” Whak said.
Being able to pose his body in a way that conveys a feeling … is a skill and I feel that skill should be respected more.– Whak Nyong
“One thing could change your life, but then it comes from the accumulation of all those that did not work, but you just need one, so keep going.”
Meanwhile, Mo said he wants young people to just be persistent.
“Whatever you feel you are being put here to do, just do it with good intentions,” Mo said.
“People will try to put their own fears and insecurities on you,” he said, adding that this is something they both had to deal with.
Always pulled back to Hamilton
The brothers say they hope to visit New York to “advance their modeling careers” and be a part of New York Fashion Week.
They also plan to open a creative consulting firm to work with local brands in Hamilton and elsewhere to help bring their ideas to life.
But they have no plans to leave the city anytime soon.
“Yes, we’re leaving Hamilton for a while, but I feel that even in the big picture, we go out to spread the message, but we always come back,” Whak said.
Mo, on the other hand, said, “the joke I always make is that if the mayor of Hamilton [Fred Eisenberger] understand what we do for him, he will finance us. “
For more stories on the experiences of black Canadians – from anti-black racism to success stories in black society – check Being black in Canada, a CBC project that black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.