* Featured in African Portraits, 6 October - 19th November 2016
*Online preview here
J.D. ‘Ohkai Ojeikere was born in 1930 in Ovbiomu-Emai in South-western Nigeria. At the age of twenty, he bought himself a modest Brownie camera on the advice of a neighbour who taught him the rudiments of photography.
In 1951 he regularly wrote the same letter to the Ministry for Information:
“I would be very grateful if you would agree to employ me in any position in your Department of Photography…”
Two years later, his persistence gained him a job as a studio photographer for the first African television station. The proud and motivated young team, directed by the Nigerian jazz musician Steve Rhodes, lived through an exceptional experience at the dawn of decolonisation. Known for his seriousness, the young Ojeikere was approached by West Africa Publicity, where he worked from 1963 until 1975, the year he set up his own studio: Foto Ojeikere.
In 1967, he became a member of the Nigeria Art Council, which organised festivals of visual and living arts. During a festival in 1968, he took his first photographs devoted to Nigerian culture with his 6 x 6 cm Rolliflex, always in black & white. From then on, over a period of thirty years, he travelled throughout the country in pursuit of his subjects, which are organized by theme. Ojeikere was commissioned by the Ministry of Culture in 1977 to document one of the largest cultural events on the continent to date—FESTAC ’77, which featured more that 17,000 participants from over fifty countries.
Consisting of almost a thousand shots, Hairstyles is his most rigorous and the most considerable series to date,
“It is fascinating to watch a ‘hair artist’ make all these precise movements, as would an artist making sculpture. Hairstyles are a form of art”.
Ojeikere photographed them every day – in the street, at work, at parties – and systematically: from behind, sometimes in profile, and more rarely, from the front.
“A frontal photograph shows nothing, the ones from behind are almost abstract and better reveal the sculptural aspect of hairstyles. Shots from different angles reveal the structures.”
With his Hairstyles, Ojeikere embarked upon an infinite series, since the styles constantly evolved with fashion - an internationally celebrated visual taxonomy of the hairstyles and headdresses worn by Nigerian women. For Ojeikere, these hairstyles—from scalp-hugging braids to stunning sculptural forms—are ephemeral works of art, a notion that his photographs clearly affirm.
“All these hairstyles are ephemeral and I want my photographs to be memorable traces of them. I have always wanted to record moments of beauty, moments of knowledge. Art is life. Without art, life would be frozen.”
The artist’s first monograph Photographs organized by André Magnin, was published in 2000 on the occasion of his solo exhibition at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris. Ojeikere’s work has been featured in numerous solo and groups exhibitions in major museums throughout the world. In 2014 his most comprehensive Monograph J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere was published.
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, holds several pieces by Ojeikere:
"Over the course of his life Ojeikere recorded more than a thousand hairstyles, as well as traditional headties. The series of photographs, which includes both popular and ceremonial styles, is of historic and anthropological significance, as well as aesthetic value"
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