When most people look at braids, they simply see a hairstyle. But, for many of us in the Black community, braids are so much more—they’re an art. If you don’t believe me, just look at some of the amazing Black braiders in our industry who are elevating the practice of braiding to an avant-garde level and turning hair into wearable art.
For these skilled hair artists, braids are used as a canvas for artistic expression and more importantly, as a way to pay homage to the African diaspora. Not to mention, their braided works of art, which often pull inspiration from traditional African braiding, also celebrate the versatility of Black hair.
In honor of Black History Month, we’re turning the spotlight onto a few of the powerhouse hair artists who are showcasing the beauty and artistry of braiding through their intricate handiwork. Ahead, scroll through for six braiders who are taking hair braiding to new heights.
Taiba Akhuetie (@taibataiba)
London-based braiding artist, Taiba Akhuetie, has made a name for herself with her avant-garde hair creations, which range from wearable braided objects—like cowboy boots and Louis Vuitton handbags —to more symbolic hairstyles, exploring themes of love and identity. Akhuetie, often known as Taiba Taiba, has created dazzling braided looks for brands like Marc Jacobs, Nike, and Burberry, as well as celebs such as FKA Twigs and Jorja Smith. In 2021, she launched her first solo exhibition, “We Need More Black in Hair”, which highlighted Black hair and braiding as a sculptural art form. Alongside her hair work, she is the CEO of braiding service-turned-creative agency KEASH LDN.
Shani Crowe, (@crowezilla)
If you don’t know Shani Crowe’s name, you most certainly have seen her work. The Chicago-based braider and hairstylist is the mastermind behind that ethereal braided halo that Solange wore for her debut SNL performance in 2016 (she spent approximately 50 hours creating the iconic Swarkosvi-encrusted headpiece!). A life-long braider, Crowe meshes artistic styling with wearability to craft complex braided hairstyles that honor the tradition, culture, and legacy of traditional African hair braiding. To date, her intricate works of braided hair have been displayed at the Museum of Contemporary African and Diasporan Art (MoCADA) in Brooklyn NY., the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, MI, the August Wilson African American Culture Center in Pittsburgh, PA, and at Miami Art Basel.
Widny Bazile, (@widneybazile)
Widney Bazile may have first got her start in the beauty and fashion industry as a model, but now the talented Haitian-born artist seemingly does it all—from photography and creative direction to even hairstyling. A self-taught braider, Bazile’s braided hair art started off as a DIY project and has evolved into working with major publications like The New York Times. For those who don’t know, she created that epic braided crown that Lil Nas X wore on NYT Magazine’s cover. For Bazile, her braided work allows her the opportunity to not only champion black hair textures and challenge gender norms around hair, but to also pay homage to Haiti, the place where she first learned to braid hair. Already the founder of her own creative agency, Widney Studios, Bazile has recently lended her talents to working with furniture and decor. She launched her own furniture line that’s centered around braids.
Fesa Nu, (@hair__poet)
A self-described hair poet, Fesa Nu views hair as a form of poetry with Black culture, particularly Black women, as her muse. The Los-Angeles-based braider, who’s known for her sculptural, gravity-defying braids and twists, has been working in hair for over 20 years. While her focus is primarily editorial work, she’s also been the architect behind some truly incredible hair masterpieces for stars like Yara Shahidi, Chika, and Chloe Bailey. For Nu, much of her braided work pulls from traditional African braiding, particularly styles from Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, and her homeland of South Africa. She even created and produced her own Instagram series, The Art of Hair: African Woman Edition, which paid homage to African culture through beautiful, sculptural hair looks.
Susan Oludele, (@africancreature + @hairbysusy)
There’s a reason why so many stars all flock to Susan Oludele for all their braided looks. Multicolored, beaded, bantu knots—you name it—Oludele and her magic fingers can pull off just about any braided hairstyle you can imagine. They don’t call her the “hair magician” for nothing! Celebs such as Justin Skyee, Zoe Kravitz, Solange, LaLa Anthony, and even Beyonce—she’s the mastermind behind those iconic Lemonade braids—have all taken a seat in her chair. But, that’s not the only reason why Oludele is one of the best braiders in the business. The Nigerian-American artist constantly thinks out of the box, merging her expressively bold aesthetic with African-braiding techniques to create new hairstyles and craft truly one-of-a-kind designs. Not to mention, in addition to her hair work, she is also the founder of Brooklyn braiding salon, Hair by Susy, and runs her own online beauty supply store.
Nikki Nelms, (@nikkinelms)
A self-described “Hair MacGyver”, Nikki Nelms is the hair artist behind some of the most memorable hairstyles of recent years. From Janelle Monae’s googly-eye buns to Solange’s iconic beaded braids for her “Don’t Touch My Hair” music video, Nelms has proven time and time again through her work that hair is art, simply put. Her ability to turn braids into structural works of art befitting a museum never fails to impress. And, Nelm’s use of unconventional hair accessories is inspiring—the things that she does with safety pins and butterflies blows our minds. It’s no wonder that stars like Zoe Kravitz, Solange, and Janelle Monae constantly turn to Nelms to work her hair magic on their crowns.