Hayward Touring presented the first UK touring exhibition of J.D ‘Okhai Ojeikere, widely regarded as one of the most important photographers to emerge from Africa in the last sixty years.
Born in Nigeria, Ojeikere took up photography in the 1950s, starting a relationship with an artistic form of expression that defined his life’s work. He ran a commercial studio and was involved in the emerging Nigerian Arts Council, but it was his Hairstyles series – a personal project began in 1968 – that brought international acclaim.
Utilising both street and studio photography, Ojeikere has fastidiously documented the many different fashions and nuanced meanings of his subject matter. These ever-evolving designs symbolised key life events such as weddings or birthdays, and often denoted social status – with unique family hairstyles being passed down through generations. The styles became known by their nicknames, which emerged from either the geographic area they came from, or from the natural and manmade forms they imitated including pineapples, crabs, suspension bridges or towerblocks. To Ojeikere, the hairstyles celebrate uniqueness and reflect the diversity of cultural traditions within Nigeria.
Ojeikere framed his subjects in a progressively modernist style, which likened these elaborate and intricate designs to art forms and sculptures. He was driven by a desire to record these artistic styles as cultural artefacts, however fleeting, before they disappeared in the wake of cultural modernisation being experienced across Africa following post-colonisation.
The Hairstyles project, which laterally grew to incorporate headdresses, spanned more than forty years and included over 1000 images, but was finally drawn to a close by the artists’ death early in 2013. J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere’s lasting legacy is this unique typological survey, which provides an enduringly beautiful and powerful insight into Nigerian culture.
Featuring over 50 images printed from the original negatives.