Medina Dugger’s recent photographic series Chroma is an ongoing project that celebrates women’s hair and culture in Nigeria. It is inspired in part by the late Nigerian photographer ‘Okhai Ojeikere, who photographed over 1000 different hairstyles. We talk to Medina about the hairstyles in the shoot,the creative scene in Nigeria, and why it’s the only place she wants to be right now.
Tell us a little bit more about yourself. Where you grew up and how you got into photography? And where you are currently based?
I grew up in California primarily. My grandmother bought me a photography book for my 8th birthday on children of the world. It was photojournalistic in nature and some of the images were rather intense for a child, but it grabbed me, the first seed was planted. I took a photography class in college and photographed for years as a hobby while I worked as a nurse. In 2010 I reached a crossroads moment and decided to switch course. I studied at Spéos Photographic Institute in Paris, France. I am currently based in Lagos: I moved from California in 2011, and I now do photography full time. I still occasionally do creative consulting and curating.
In your series Chroma, the use of colour is very prominent and highlighted. Is this something that speaks as a part of your own aesthetic, or does it speak more about the theme, the women and the culture you are celebrating?
When I first began photography I was obsessed with black and white photography and lost all concept of time in the darkroom. I do find myself attracted to colour more and more, but it depends on the series. I guess I’m trending towards colour these days, but the colour aesthetic for Chroma was definitely informed by the theme.
When did you first decided to start shooting Chroma? What was the motivation and what went through your mind when you decided to do it?
I began Chroma in March of this year. A number of different inspirations contributed to this project. Last year I was at a talk in Lagos featuring photographer Ike Ude and he referred to fashion and one’s ‘look’ (which I also take to mean hairstyle) as our ‘cultural skin’. This concept really stayed with me.
I discovered J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere’s work soon after I arrived in Lagos six years ago. After speaking with Wunika Mukan, a creative figure and friend in Lagos arts and culture, she encouraged me to tackle the project, of revisiting Ojeikere’s work in colour. I enjoy all the different elements that contribute to style and appearance in general. It’s one of my favourite aspects of people watching. I’ve also experimented on my own hair a lot and was inspired by my mother’s many changing hair colours growing up, so I think this also played a part in my enthusiasm for the project.
What is it that you are hoping to inspire in the viewer when they see this series of photographs?
The politics of beauty and hair can be ugly. Especially in the Western World, we still see a lot of ignorance, meddling and insensitivity when it comes to African hair. A recent example is the Malden Charter School in Boston, USA which gave detention slips to two African American girls, pulled them from their sports teams and told them they weren’t allowed to go to prom for wearing box braids.
I would love for Chroma to inspire people to rock whatever hairstyle they wish to, and gain appreciation for different hairdos, natural or otherwise. There is a lot of culture and history associated with many of these designs—some come from particular tribal regions, some are worn for special occasions. With our increasingly globalised world, style and trends can quickly become diluted so I also hope this series helps honour Ojeikere’s legacy in preserving what is truly an art form, many of the styles being unique to Nigeria.
What is it about Nigeria that inspires you so much? And what is it about Okhai Ojeikere’s work that inspires you?
Nigeria is not for the faint hearted. It’s rough around the edges, and will challenge your weaknesses but its brilliance for me lies in its creative scene, its richness, its buzz, its absence of monotony, its raw potential, in so many of the country’s wonderful attributes which are largely unknown by the rest of the world (who instead think of the Niger Delta or Boko Haram). Simply put it’s the most engaging place I’ve ever been. For those of us living here, we feel we are in on the best kept secret.
What inspires me most about Ojeikere’s work is the historical storytelling they also represent. They record a very special time in Nigeria’s history in a very personal way—post colonial rule. Prior to British rule, traditional hairstyles were the norm and varied according to tribe, social status, marriage status and special events. During British rule, these practices changed, wigs and hair straightening became more common, especially in urban centers, conforming to rigid Western ideals of style and beauty. Ojeikere documented the come back of traditional styles (and new designs) which communicated much more than style, they also embodied the hopes of a newly independent nation.
What do you think about the creative scene on the African continent at the moment?
I think it’s an exciting time to live on the continent. There is so much happening right now and the world is paying attention. I think it’s a refreshing shift. One which is gaining momentum. l I think it is just the beginning. There’s no other place I’d rather be.