The reason terms like "boxer braids" and "inside-out plaits" are so offensive is because they diminish the real hairstyles' rich history. What's more, the "tastemakers" who wear them are often credited for putting those styles on the map, when the braids actually have much deeper roots that are planted in Africa. And photographer Medina Dugger doesn't want you to forget that.
Her latest series, Chroma: An Ode to J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere, celebrates the traditional styles we love, while giving its viewers an important history lesson. "Last year I was at a talk during LagosPhoto Festival, where Nigerian-born photographer Ike Ude referred to fashion and style as our ‘cultural skin.' This concept really struck me," Dugger tells Refinery29. "In this increasingly connected world of information sharing, cultural traditions can be diluted and lost."
Dugger's biggest inspiration for the project was the work of the late J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere, who documented over 1,000 traditional Nigerian hairstyles that were worn before colonial rule introduced rigid western ideals of beauty. "His work represents much more than style; it serves as a record of an important part of Nigeria’s history," Dugger says.
Dugger worked with Nigerian hairstylist Ijeoma Christopher who was able to tell her the names of each hairstyle and the history behind why or when a woman would wear a particular look, she says. She also made sure to consult with each model on the color and design, aiming for styles they’d likely wear beyond the shoot.
In creating this striking series, Dugger hopes her images serve as a celebration — and an education. "Black women’s hair remains a political topic around the world, one that many continue to be ignorant, insensitive, and offensive about," Dugger says. "The western-centric gaze is pervasive, oppressive and institutionalized, both overtly and subliminally. Chroma aims to celebrate the beauty of Nigerian hair design."
Check out her captivating images — and the stories behind them — ahead.