The Nigerian Photographer Celebrating Afro Hair Through Passport Pictures

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© Favour Jonathan

As her work reaches billboards nationwide as part of Apple’s new campaign, we sit down with artist Favour Jonathan

21-year old art student Favour Jonathan has made documenting her hairstyles an art form all its own. Her ongoing series A Statement of Pride juxtaposes the formality of photo identification with striking and intricate braided hair styles in honour of her Nigerian heritage. The young artist has been using a photo booth to take pictures of herself over a period of months, each time with a revamped do. Such is her following that Apple looked to her for its Selfies on iPhone X campaign, in which she dons a Diana Ross-inspired afro.

A Statement of Pride is a powerful project, arriving at a time when traditional beauty standards are shifting monumentally. Straight and long hair has long been considered the epitome of ‘beauty’, but with the natural hair movement seeing many black women embracing their curls, new definitions are beginning to arise. Jonathan’s self portraits tie neatly into themes of identity, self-worth and empowerment, and the aim of the project is to document the complex and endless possibilities of Afro hair, and to showcase hairstyles that are underrepresented in mainstream media but still worthy of acclaim.

On her hair inspirations...
“There’s a Nigerian photographer called J. D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere who I love. He has documented over a thousand images of African hairstyles, and I absolutely adore his work. I’m also inspired by old Soul Train videos, big big hair from Diana Ross and Betty Davis, bead designs from Stevie Wonder, Patrice Rushen and many more.

“I also love the traditions linked with hair. In Africa, you can identify a person by the pattern of their braids – like the inverted tiny braids of the Fulani people. No matter where they are in Africa, from east to west, you know who they are. Some hairstyles and cuts in Nigeria can sometimes be used to identify your age, your title, and even your marital status.”

On taking passport pictures...
“A passport photograph is your identity. It’s unique to you, and I felt like it was a good way of being able to look back and see myself grow. That’s why I started using the photo booth. I braid my hair myself and whenever I’m on my way to uni, I’ll stop off and take some photos. Whenever I change my hairstyle, I’ll do the exact same thing again.”

On cornrows giving her confidence...
“Since January, I’ve been cornrowing my hair into different patterns. It’s usually seen as a very childlike style but I really love the patterns – instead of them making me feel childlike, they make me more confident. I feel like Queen Latifah in Set It Off mixed with 1995 Da Brat and 2001 Alicia Keys at Sugar Bar. The strength these hairstyles give me is worth documenting and sharing.” 

On stereotypes…
“I study at an art university so there are a lot of crazy hairstyles, but if you take those hairstyles outside of this safe space within the university and go into the ‘real world’, people will judge you. But if it makes you happy, which I believe is the most important thing in this world, then it doesn’t matter what people have to say about it or what kind of person they think you are.” 

On the importance of celebrating black hair...
“It’s really scary that we can watch a whole day of TV and not see one single Afro textured hair advert. There are different people watching the screens, so why not be diverse? We’re living in a time when black people are starting to see the beauty in our own hair; you get to a certain age and you ask yourself: ‘why am I buying chemicals to damage my own hair?’ There are so many natural hairstyles out there and it’s important to teach our daughters and our sons that they are beautiful. At Notting Hill Carnival last year, I saw so many people with natural hair and it was stunning. It filled my heart with joy.”

With thanks to Apple.