J. D. 'Okhai Ojeikere (1930-2014) was born and grew up in a rural village in Ovbiomu-Emai in the southwestern region of Nigeria. Two years after completing his formal studies at St. Bernard Catholic School in Ihievbe, the artist acquired his first camera, a Model Brownie D in 1950. With the assistance of a neighbor in Abakaliki, Ojeikere set out to diligently explore the rudiments of photography, eventually mastering basic darkroom and exposure techniques. Excited about the possibilities of the camera, the artist moved back to his hometown and quickly established a reputation as “the photographer.”
By 1951, Ojeikere began a letter writing campaign to the Ministry of Information seeking employment in their photography department. In 1954, he was finally hired as a darkroom assistant and later as a press photographer. Ojeikere married Ikegbua Onime in 1959 in Ibadan. By the time the artist and his family moved to Lagos in 1963 to work for West African Publicity—three years after independence—the country was in the midst of nationalistic euphoria. In Ojeikere’s words, “Just after independence, we were full of ideas and energy. We were going to conquer the world.”
Ojeikere joined the Nigerian Arts Council in 1967 at the recommendation of his friend and fellow artist Erhabor Emokpae. In the following year, 1968, the artist began systematically documenting aspects of Nigerian culture. Though he continued to pursue his commercial work, Ojeikere concentrated much of his energy on traveling and photographing the developments in architecture, university life, cultural festivals, theatrical performances, and his acclaimed Hairstyles series.
In 1975, Ojeikere founded his own photography studio foto ojeikere, and a year later he had his first solo exhibition at the Nigerian Arts Council in Marina, Lagos. 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.
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 will be published by CCA, Lagos.
About J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere
Since the 1960s, J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere has been documenting the culture of his native Nigeria in exquisite black-and-white photographs, capturing the elegance and exuberance of its celebrations, ceremonies, and daily life. He has amassed thousands of images, which together form an anthropological and ethnographic record that is considered to be a national treasure. With his keen eye for composition and attention to detail, Ojeikere finds art everywhere, as he describes: “I always wanted to record moments of beauty, moments of knowledge. Art is life.” This approach fuels his ongoing “Hairstyles” project (begun 1968), an internationally celebrated visual taxonomy of the hairstyles and headdresses worn by Nigerian women, captured at close range, often from behind. For Ojeikere, these hairstyles—from scalp-hugging braids to stunning sculptural forms—are ephemeral works of art, a notion that his photographs clearly affirm.
Nigerian, b. 1930, Ojomu Emai, Nigeria, based in Ketou, Nigeria