Irun Kiko: Modern Interpretations Of Traditional Nigerian Hairstyles

Hairstyles such as braids, locs, and threading, have been prominent in African culture for many centuries - dating as far back as the 15th century.

But today, these styles have - intentionally and unintentionally - become fashion and political statements, and are often the victims of appropriation by those who care very little for their origin. But as many appropriate these cultural styles, there are many young modern black women who are also embracing these traditionally African hairstyles today.

(Photo: Juliana Kasumu)

(Photo: Juliana Kasumu)

Traditionally in Nigeria, Yoruba women were known to wear one of these distinct African hairstyles, known as Irun Kiko (translated to “hair knotting with thread”), as a symbolic embrace of femininity and a declaration of cultural pride. Most recently, we've seen this style on dancers in Beyoncé's "Formation" video and on natural hair bloggers, showing ways to style and stretch their natural hair with a string of thread, instead of heat.

Now, London-based, British-Nigerian photographer, Juliana Kasumu, is also celebrating and highlighting this gorgeous hairstyle in her Irun Kiko photo series. The series presents modern renditions of the traditional hairstyles which were once used as a form of cultural identification, and looks into ways in which black women either conform to, or rebel against western ideals of beauty while reclaiming African heritage.

Today, images from the Irun Kiko series have gone on to receive international acclaim with presented exhibitions and lectures in London, Birmingham, and San Antonio, Texas.

(Photo: Juliana Kasumu)

(Photo: Juliana Kasumu)

Speaking to Konbini, Kasumu talked in depth about being a black woman with natural hair in the UK and the responses to that:

"To be honest its a mixed-bag. I find with a lot of people, both black or white, their appreciation for my hair is based on exoticism."

" I mean I've been in absolutely ridiculous scenarios, with people running their fingers through my hair like it was their God-given right, or jumping out of buses in order to take a photograph. It's maddening."

(Photo: Juliana Kasumu)

(Photo: Juliana Kasumu)

"On the other end of the spectrum, I get the occasional questionable remark from family members, friends, older generation Nigerians, sometimes strangers, giving strong suggestions on my need to relax my hair, which tells me that this process of decolonising the mind still has a long way to go."

"But slowly I've seen that by opening up the dialogue on why it always has to be relaxer vs natural, I have seen a growing number of peoples ideologies move away from those narrow-minded views, amongst both Africans and non-Africans. So that's inspiring."

(Photo: Juliana Kasumu)

(Photo: Juliana Kasumu)

But when it comes to popular hairstyles such a threading, Kasumu has noted that most of the responses to the project haven been that of curiosity to know more, interest and appreciation for the series and its historical context:

"...there has been a shift in the mind-set that most once had, with regard  the 'attractiveness' of these styles."

"I'm pleased to now have the opportunity to be in conversation with African women who have felt inspired by this series and their childhood memories, to go back to having their hair threaded and adapt it to their own personal styles."

 

(Photo: Juliana Kasumu)

(Photo: Juliana Kasumu)

With black hair constantly being seen as a statement, and black women constantly being asked to make their hair 'conform' to European standards, we asked Kasumu why black hair is perceived as so political:

 "Because for many, black hair has become a means of standing up against the political suppression of blackness as a whole."

"But It is important to add here, that most of these politics were imposed by others, through acts of ethnocentrism and the constant analysis from outsiders on the state of black bodies, inevitably formulated narrow-minded assumptions, which we still see in play today."

(Photo: Juliana Kasumu)

(Photo: Juliana Kasumu)

"A lot of these politics were and still are unintended. I mean seriously, does it make sense that something so natural could cause me to be fired from a job position, or kicked out of school?"

"With the advancement of technology, we're in a state of trying desperately to gain independence from Western influence. This is a beautiful thing, and personally don't view it as 'political' move, more a means of healing amongst the various communities within Africa and its diaspora."

Juliana Kasumu will be exhibiting her work at the annual East London photography festival, Photomonth, starting October 7.

To learn more about Kasumu and her work, head to her website and Instagram account.

(Photo: Juliana Kasumu)

(Photo: Juliana Kasumu)

Read More -> Photographer Tells The History of African Head-Ties Through Magical Images

Editor-In-Chief, Konbini Nigeria.