By Damali and Nii B. Andrews.
There is a series of over 1000 photographs taken by JD ‘Okhai Ojeikere.
It consists of Nigerian popular and ceremonial hairstyles and head ties and is of immense anthropological, historic and aesthetic value.
It is priceless.
The black and white photographs are beautifully composed.
They reveal the hairstyles as a consummate art form by highlighting their sculptural quality, even while realising that we are still missing an important element – the whole shebang in motion with well styled clothing!
His formal vocabulary was direct and uncomplicated: no backdrops or props, elegant female sitters, elaborate coiffures, soft lighting, immaculate black-and-white printing.
In Ojeikere’s hands, photography became a means to record the pervasive transient creativity that underpinned Nigerian social and cultural life.
Ojeikere was appointed a member of the Nigeria Art Council in 1967; he then traveled across the country and continued his photography series to document an important part of Nigerian femininity.
The series date back to the early 50s.
He continued the series as a personal project spanning over 40 years until his passing in 2014 at the age of 83.
Ojeikere was methodical in his documentation of the hairstyles – perhaps as a reflection of his background as a photojournalist.
He labeled each photograph precisely with the hairstyle’s place of origin, meaning, name and its history.
Today, this archival approach enables us to evaluate the photographs within the context of the immense social and cultural changes that followed post-colonisation in Nigeria and West Africa.
Photographs from Ojeikere’s magnum opus are held in prestigious museums and collections throughout the world.
Now, are these hairstyling techniques being studied in Ghana and passed on to younger stylists? Are the younger generation interested in learning these techniques?
Do any of our academic art institutions include African hair design (for all genders) in any meaningful way?
Have they considered it? If they have, then how many more committees need to be established and reports filed before a vibrant academic program commences!?
Are the designs relevant and elegant enough for contemporary lifestyles?
Do send us your thoughts; we will love to read and share them.