J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere at SOF Art House (688 Richmond West), to June 2. 416-203-0069. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
At some point in looking at the photographs in Hairstyles, a show featuring the hair designs of West African women, the hair stopped seeming a glorious burden for the head and instead became the entire reason for having a head.Certainly the women take second place to their hair in the eyes of photographer J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere, who shoots his models from behind or in profile, their faces mostly obscured.
These aren't portraits. The artist's interest is that of the archivist, having documented traditional, ceremonial and everyday hairstyles since the 1960s, when these looks started being replaced by more fashionable wigs.
Ojeikere's style is appropriately clinical -- these are mostly studio shots on white backgrounds, the film a revealing black-and-white, the heads large and centred in the frame. Each image is labelled. Some looks are worn by old women to the office. A tiara-like construction is, naturally, favoured by society girls.
And yet these prints are without question the work of an artist. The images are gorgeous and rich, the hair both elevated to the grandeur of sculpture and relegated to the strangeness of breathing, alien creatures living parastically off the scalp. Clearly such worked-at adornment is about pride and status -- both the self-celebration and the masochism that lie at the heart of fashion.
Elevating female self-presentation to the level of pure language, the photographs provocatively frustrate in their mystery.
Which hairstyle suggests to the town boys a slut? Which, to her girlfriends a slavish following of the latest trends?
What, specifically, do we reveal when we make of ourselves a work of art?