Photographer, ‘Okhai Ojeikere was born in 1930 in Ovbiomu-Emai, Edo State and is one of the most iconic figures in contemporary Nigerian art.
His early interest in photography was encouraged by a neighbour, who advised him to acquire a personal camera and taught him basic operating skills and the rudiments of photography.
In 1954, Ojeikere was appointed darkroom assistant at the Ministry of Information and in 1961, became a still photographer for Television House, Ibadan, a division of the Western Nigerian Broadcasting Services and the first television station in Africa. From 1963, he worked with West Africa Publicity now Lowe Lintas, and retired in 1975 as head of commercial photography to establish his own studio, Foto Ojeikere where he serves as chief photography consultant.
Since 1967, Ojeikere has been a member of the Nigerian Arts Council, which organizes festivals of visual and living arts. From 1968, he began to develop series of photographs notably in black-and-white, exploring Nigerian culture, which has since become a significant anthropological, ethnographic and documentary national treasure.
Hairstyles is Ojeikere’s best-known and most important body of work through which he draws attention to the elaborate and sculptural forms of Nigerian hairstyles while documenting their evolving style that changes with fashion. “All these hairstyles are ephemeral. I want my photographs to be noteworthy traces of them. I always wanted to record moments of beauty, moments of knowledge. Art is life. Without art, life would be frozen.”
He records each sitter in profile, occasionally frontally but mainly from the rear to reveal an abstract, and almost sculptural quality. Ojeikere continues to work and has recently completed a hugely successful series of photographs on headdresses (gele) fashioned from hand-woven aso-oke and expensive imported textiles including damask, brocade and metallic-like jacquard.
The history of these fabrics is not only tied to the complex web of trade and negotiation between Africa and the West, but is related to socio-political development in Nigeria’s recent past during the oil boom years. Today, the outfits produced from these luxurious fabrics are an expression of prosperity.
‘Okhai Ojeikere’s work has been widely exhibited in some of the world’s most prestigious museums and galleries including the Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain, Tate Modern, London, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. His work also forms part of several important collections like The Walther Collection, The Jean Pigozzi Collection, and the Cartier Foundation, Paris.
‘Okhai Ojeikere has been honoured with the Chobi Mela Life Time Achievement Award in Photography, Bangladesh, 2011 and the Nigerian Photography Award, Life Time Achievement Award, 2011, for his outstanding contribution to photography in Nigeria.