Photographing the Evolution of West African Hairstyles

British-Nigerian photographer Juliana Kasumu explores West African identity and style through her portrait series.


With her striking black and white portraits, photographer Juliana Kasumu documents the history of West African hairstyle and explores “the interconnectivity between contemporary fashion and traditional culture.”

The portraits present a nuanced and historical perspective which work to inform viewers who are unaware of the origins of these West African styles. Kasumu’s series Irun Kiko is inspired by the work of J. D. Ojeikere, the celebrated late photographer who began creating a photographic archive of Nigerian hairstyles in 1968. Taking up this effort to create a cultural record, Kasumu seeks to explore how traditional African hairstyles are expressed in contemporary culture, “looking into ways in which West African females either conform or rebel against current European standards of beauty.”

In her other series, titled From Moussor to Tignon, Kasumu explores the history of the head tie, connecting tignons, the head wraps worn by Afro-Creole women, to the styles worn in Senegal, West Africa. In 18th century New Orleans, a law was passed that aimed to oppress women of color by forcing them to cover their hair. However, head wraps ended up becoming a fashion statement instead, with women styling them in innovative ways. Kasumu takes a photographic look back at head-ties, exploring how these styles can signify “re-appreciation for one’s African heritage.”

“My main aim is to provide information on the important and sometimes forgotten histories that shaped the West Africa we know today, also bringing attention to the effects of colonization in Africa and the diaspora,” Kasumu says on her website. “The basis of my photographic research has revolved around Black identity on an extremely personal level, with my identity as a British-Nigerian female being at the forefront of the projects I have undertaken.” Kasumu’s work provides a real and crucial perspective, contrasting the all too often reductive, offensive, or simply nonexistent depictions of women of color in Western media.

Find more of Juliana Kasumu’s photography at her portfolio, built using Format.

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