Hair as Personal, Cultural, Historical Artform

When Lagos, Nigeria celebrated its independence from Britain in 1960, a hairstyle called the Tall House “literally sprang up“.  According to the New York Times Lens Blog, hair sculptures as high as two feet “symbolized the aspirations of a new and striving nation”.

Nigerian photographer J. D. ’Okhai Ojeikere, who died last year at the age of 83, spent more than thirty years traveling across Nigeria documenting hundreds of braided styles that appeared during that time. He took close to 1,000 portraits of different braids, twists, plaits and buns, each carrying a distinct meaning.  His book J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere: Photographs contains his most famous series “Hairstyles”. Each is a deeply expressive, rather magical work of personal and cultural art. For us, they are examples of personal expression taken to wondrous heights with the most elemental of materials.

JD Okhai Ojeikere

JD Okhai Ojeikere

JD Okhai Ojeikere

JD Okhai Ojeikere

JD Okhai Ojeikere

JD Okhai Ojeikere

No less beautiful than the hair styles are the elaborately wrapped and high-reaching headscarves

JD Okhai Ojeikere

JD Okhai Ojeikere

Although we don’t know the specific meanings of each style, we “get” and admire their very loud message of joy and deep pride.

View more of Ojeikere’s work at Gallery 51

With thanks to Susan Dworski

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