Currently on show at Tristan Hoare Gallery in West London is Nigerian photographer Ojeikere. Born in 1930, Ojeikere’s formative years were spent as a photographer for the Ministry of Education in Lagos and later in the West African Publicity Agency. In 1975 he opened his own studio Foto Ojeikere.
In the late 60’s Ojeikere began photographing women’s hairstyles, a subject which continues to fascinate him to this date. He explains “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.”
Certain hairstyles are purely decorative while others are more ceremonial and have a precise meaning. Among other things, the style determines specific types of ceremony (such as marriages or coming of age) as well as the status of the woman and her family. “Royal families have the exclusive right to their hairstyle, which cannot be imitated… it’s a mark of distinction. Their knowledge is transmitted from mother to daughter.” With every portrait Ojeikere notes where the hairstyle is from, its meaning, its name and its history.
Although there is a strong documentary quality to the series, preserving an ancient heritage, Ojeikere’s presents the hairstyles as works of art. Often taken from the back, they are sculptural and abstract, sensitive to the intricacies of the work and admiring of the beauty of the design.
Ojeikere’s work is on show at Tristan Hoare Gallery until 10th May 2013.