AboutNew Art Exchange, Nottingham, presents Nigerian photographer J.D Okhai Ojeikere's prolific collection of ornate hairstyles and headdresses. The elaborately sculpted hair of female African models is captured in meticulous detail through beautifully composed black and white photography. The series simultaneously celebrates hairstyling as a transient artwork and forms an extensive visual archive reflecting Nigerian cultural traditions.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest 20th century African photographers, Ojeikere earned international acclaim through his Hairstyle series; a personal project begun in 1968, which grew to encompass 1,000 photographs spanning 40 years. In recognition of the recently deceased artist, this Hayward Touring exhibition from Southbank Centre is the first UK exhibition of the renowned artist's work.
Ojeikere elevates hair design from fashion to a fine art form through celebrating their intricate patterns, sculptural qualities, and abstraction. In contrast to the variety of complex hairstyles represented, Ojeikere's photography uses a consistent and understated visual language. In these literally back-to-front portraits, softly-lit hairstyles occupy the majority of the composition without distraction from props or backdrops.
The hairstyles Ojeikere presents range from being purely decorative to symbols with precise meanings. Some designs are paraded on social occasions or celebrations such as weddings or birthdays, whilst other styles are worn casually on a regular basis. Hairstyles can be reflective of social status and royalty may have unique family hairstyles passed down through generations. To Ojeikere, the hairstyles celebrate uniqueness and reflect the diversity of cultural traditions within Nigeria.
There are hundreds of ethnic groups in Nigeria, each with its own language, traditions and as many different hairstyles... The hairstyles are never exactly the same; each one has its own beauty... Some styles sometimes need more than a week of work.
To preserve the rich heritage, Ojeikere labels each photograph with the hairstyles place of origin, meaning, name and its history. This archival approach relates to the artists photojournalism background, and the Hairstyle series can be viewed against the backdrop of immense social and cultural change following post-colonisation Nigeria.
Ojeireke's work is held in a variety of public and private collections, including the Tate (London), Getty Museum (Los Angeles), Foundation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporain (Paris), Musée du Quai Branly (Paris), Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain (Geneva), National Arts Council (Lagos), Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao), Collection Agnes b. (Paris), Jean Pigozzi Colletcion (Geneva), Smithosian Institution (Washington) as well as the Walther Collection (New York). This collection was presented in the International Pavilion in the Venice Biennale 2013.
Exhibition conceived in collaboration with Galerie MAGNIN-A, Paris.