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J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere’s acclaimed fascination with Nigerian women hairstyles

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J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere died in 2014 and he left behind the legacy of a large collection of images of people, objects, and places representative of the society and culture of his country, Nigeria.

He is best known for his work documenting hundreds of unique Nigerian hairstyles. This collection, which he started photographing in the 1960s, was presented in 2013 at the Venice Biennale, a year before his death, in an exhibition curated by Italian contemporary art critic Massimiliano Gioni.

He is a cultural archivist, who at the time of his death had amassed a massive portfolio of about 10,000 photographs chronicling the African architecture, fashion, and beauty trends of his time.

His influence is enduring. In 2019, Lagos-based photographer Medina Dugger, inspired by Ojeikere’s work, photographed a collection titled Chroma. Medina recreates Ojeikere’s collection, photographing models wearing the same hairstyles seen in Ojeikere’s black and white photos, but this time she creates new colourful pictures which appear to bring the old monotonous body of work into new life. “I liked the idea of highlighting a time-honoured traditional practice using a contemporary medium—colourful hair extensions,” Dugger said in a conversation with Vice Media’s Garage Magazine. “In Ojeikere’s hands,” she said, “photography became a means to record the transient creativity that articulated Nigerian social and cultural life.”

In this episode of Veteran Gallery, we revisit Headgears and Hairstyles, Ojeikere’s widely acclaimed bodies of work.

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