Nigerian photographer J.D. ’Okhai Ojeikere worked on his Hairstyles series for several decades, turning Nigerian women’s heads into artworks.
For over 40 years, Ojeikere documented the diversity of Nigerian hairdressing in a total of nearly 1,000 photographs, creating a historical archive that illustrates the country’s aesthetic development and the great cultural diversity in its hairdressing industry. His photographs were taken on the street, in offices and at parties. The images follow a strongly systematic approach: the black and white photographs are always taken from above, sometimes in profile. The images’ contrast highlights both the high level of abstraction and the sculptural aspect of the hairstyle. Ojeikere liked to watch the creators of these artworks – the hairdressers – while they worked, and used his photographs to transform their professional accomplishments into sculpture. The different styles are in part purely decorative but often loaded with symbolism: they can reflect the social or cultural background of the woman. In order to make it possible to conserve not just the aesthetics but also the story behind the image, Ojeikere added to the images their precise date and location, the name of the wearer and the meaning that the hairstyle held for her. Alongside their documentary and aesthetic value, the pieces also have a strong photographic impact. For western eyes, Ojeikere’s images often open up a door to a previously unknown art form.