You’ve discussed modeling in the 1960s, but what did it feel like to be a new immigrant in the mid-1960s…the transition from Haiti to New York?
As difficult as it was to leave my homeland I welcomed the new adventure. I did miss my grandmother and my friends, but I loved being in New York. It was a very cold day in March. It had been snowing and the ground was covered. Everything was new. I was so young and as long as I had my family I felt secure. We lived in upper Manhattan in a very nice building and I loved the elevator! I was fascinated by the constant lights in the city. I remember thinking there are no trees, the streets seemed so sterile! I missed the crawling lizards. The transition was pretty smooth and in the summer I discovered Central Park, Coney Island and the Museums and Greenwich Village, where an abundance of art made up for my green land.
You’re involved in activities involving Haiti. Have you done anything in particular to keep your culture vibrant in your children?
The film, which was showcased as a video and installation piece at several exhibitions in Finland in 2010 (such as the Alice in Wonderland exhibition and the Turku European Capital of Culture 2011 Exhibition), explains how she became a model and how it was to be one of the first black girls to get into magazine covers in the U.S. “It touches on the issues of identity and culture, from the perspective of Jany Tomba, in images and narration.”
Jany Tomba today, posing with her niece Sasha Huber
From the dimple on her cheek to the warm smile on her face, Jany Tomba’s look captivated America for over two decades. As one of the first black super models in America, Jany is truly an inspiration. Her niece recently made a short video of her experiences, I Love Jany.
I love JaNY, 2010 from Sasha Huber on Vimeo.
Description: I ♥ JaNY is a portrait of Jany Tomba, the artistʼs aunt, who at an early age, in the 1960s, experienced what it is like to emigrate with her family from the dictatorship in Haiti to New York. Ever since Sasha [Huber] was a child, she has been fascinated and inspired by Jany’s life as a model, a mother, an artist, and now as a grandmother. Huber was curious to find out what expectations and dreams Jany had, and how the various incidents in her life led her into a career that she knew almost nothing about–that of a successful, ʻearly-generationʼ black fashion model, spending over 25 years with the Ford modeling agency.
The work became a way for Jany to get her voice heard by generations of young Black women. By her example she encouraged them to embrace themselves for what they are and, for instance, to wear their hair naturally curly. She was able to apply her positive energy and artistic creativity in fashion styles and designs that eventually evolved into visual art in New York. She loves the city that has become her home, but that does not mean she has ever forgotten about her homeland, Haiti. It is Haitiʼs lush, but endangered nature that Jany has missed most during all the years she has lived in the concrete jungle of NYC.