fig.: 'Onile Gogoro or Akaba' by J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere, 1975; exhibited at Il Palazzo Enciclopedico during La Biennale di Venezia (1 June - 24 November 2013). Photo: Date of signature: 04.10.2010; gelatin silver print, 50 x 60 cm.
Courtesy André Magnin (MAGNIN-A), Paris. (C) J. D. ’Okhai Ojeikere.
'Biennale Venice 2013' series by Karin Sawetz,
Insights into La Biennale di Venezia 2013
Issue 1: Introduction
Issue 2: Il Palazzo Enciclopedico
Walking on Water
Issue 4: A Pilsener space capsule?
Issue 5: The spiciest installation!
Issue 6: The perfect body?
Issue 7: A billionaire and a textile designer
Issue 8: Hairstyles
Hairstyles at La Biennale di Venezia
Il Palazzo Enciclopedico (The Encyclopedic Palace) hosts works by over 150 artists from 38 countries. The palazzo is described as the place where the desire to see and know everything is investigated; as a "show about obsessions and about the transformative power of imagination."
One section is dedicated to the hairstyle photo documentary by J. D. ’Okhai Ojeikere (born 1930 in Ojomu Emai, Nigeria). Ojeikere's obsession for photography started when he was twenty years old after he bought a 'Brownie D' camera. In the 50ies, he worked for the photography department of the Ministry of Information, later for the first television station in Africa (NTV Ibadan). In the late 60ies, Ojeikere began his photo chronicle of the postcolonial transition of Nigeria's culture which started after Nigeria became independent in 1960.
Ojeikere produced around five thousand photographs during four decades. The most important series is dedicated to the hairstyles and head wrappings of Nigerian women. The photographer documented with more than one thousand images the sculptural hair dressings with artful braidings and the folding of fabrics for head wear. Some of the hairstyles are so complicated that it took days, some of them even weeks to finish them. Ojeikere researched with his camera the hair traditions of hundreds of Nigerian ethnic groups. For some of the groups, hairstyles carry social meanings (status) and mark ceremonies and other social events. During the postcolonial era, the photographer captured the development of new styles which merged with traditional hairstyles.
The description at the Il Palazzo Enciclopedico exhibition of selected photos from the series closes with the words: "As such, the images form a typological anthology not simply of the changing whims of fashion and the virtuosic skill of the hair stylists, but also of the individual changes that attended the transformation of Nigeria as it grew into a new era of autonomy and self-determination."
fig.: Exhibition view of J. D. ’Okhai Ojeikere's images from the photo series concerning hairstyles and head wrappings of Nigerian women. The images which were selected for the exhibition at Il Palazzo Enciclopedico during La Biennale di Venezia (1 June - 24 November 2013) were captured between the years 1969 and 2005. Photo of the view on the exhibition captured on the press day on 30 May 2013 in Venice.