The works featured here are part of the series You Will, which began as a celebration of hair braiding, namely pineapple production, and prayer. This series aims to explore these subjects beginning with the pineapple's geometry, from its spiral symmetry to the interlocking units that characterize its skin and continue to the heart of the fruit. These configurations also appear in traditions of hair braiding. In response to this connection, like a hair braider, I allow the pineapple to direct my works on paper without restricting the resulting forms. In both forms of expression, there are no rulers, technological devices, still-life guides, or other shortcuts that predetermine any aspect of the final rendering. Without such limitations, my hands aspire to the unadulterated precision that appears in nature. So doing, I consider my children and the possibility of using my practice to leave a legacy that might inspire. The titles are constructed based on contemporary prayers in Nigeria that also stand as decrees. They incorporate Pidgin English spoken in Lagos, Jamaican patois, and depart from histories of meanings assigned to hairstyles. The series is in dialogue with the work of photographers J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere and Karl Blossfeldt and histories of botanical illustration.
Thoughts on Historical Precedents
To begin, this is not intended to be a tight academic text, filled with robust footnotes and followed by an insightful bibliography. I am a visual artist and my hope is to merely share some of the influences and historical markers I have stumbled upon while building this body of work.
In my experience, archives of hairstyling have not been the best kept. They are often preserved in memories recalled as oral histories and in photographs of anonymous people. Therefore, I have had to rely upon my own observations and conversations with others and hair braiders especially, to learn about current trends, forgotten hairstyles and their links to historical events as reflections of human experience.
Most of the hairstyles featured, or that I have referenced, to be more precise, may be closely associated with South-West Nigeria, where I currently live and work. For example, 'Your pot will always be half-full and if it turns over, it will be no more to clean up than you can bear' departs from a style called koroba, a word which means turned over a pot of stew in Yoruba, one of the three most popular indigenous languages spoken in Nigeria (see Image 7). Today, based on my observations, this hairstyle is very popular among toddlers of all socio-economic strata and the occasional adult, usually of the working class, though not always.
Another work departs from payinapu, a pigeon English word meaning pineapple (see Image 6) Other styles, such as the beehive, nod to Western histories of hair styling and undoubtedly, cultural exchange that likely happened during the Civil Rights era of the United States of America. This period, from the late 1940s and late 1960s, overlaps with 1959 when television was broadcast in Nigeria for the first time. Shortly after this period, in 1977, a pan-African cultural showcase called Festac77, took place in Festac (Lagos). I imagine an influx of hairstyles would have happened during this time when persons across the Diaspora descended upon Lagos. Afro hairstyles remained especially popular in Lagos through the 70s (see Image 13).
To be sure, cultural exchange has continued to influence hair styling, and I imagine this has exposed persons living in Nigeria to hairstyles elsewhere, and vice versa. I am curious to know more about the contemporary influence of Nigerian hairstyles on an international public, and across generations. Today, many major cities have hair-braiding salons, often run by West African women who have emigrated from the continent. To speak of where the hairstyles that they create originate, is a challenge. At best, I might recall where and when I first observed a particular...