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OHAGURO - お歯黒 - Black Teeth

OHAGURO  – お歯黒 – Black Teeth

The discourse between eastern and western beauty has been riddled with tension for centuries. When does appreciation and celebration of a ‘foreign’ culture become appropriation? At times, it seems we are moving all too quickly towards one global ideal of beauty, cherry-picking details from around the world to perfect a standard look for everyone – white-washing sacred rituals, traditions and diversity along the way.  But what happens when you honor tradition while inviting modernity into the conversation?

Below, photographer Eli Wirija explores the subject of a forgotten beauty ritual through a current lens, encouraged by the notion that beautiful things can also happen when new subcultures emerge from combining cultures.

PHOTOGRAPHY AND CREATIVE DIRECTION ELI WIRIJA @elizabethwirija
HAIR YU NAKATA @yunkt
MAKEUP TOMOYO @tomoyomakeup 
STYLIST CHANTELLE THACH @chantellethach
MODEL EMILY @offpuddinggirl 
PHOTO ASSISTANTS FAITH BAKAR @faithbakar AND SAWANI CHAUDHARY @sssawaniii

“Ohaguro (お歯黒, lit. ‘black teeth’) is the name given in Japan to the custom of blackening one’s teeth with a solution of iron filings and vinegar. Especially popular between the Heian and Edo periods, 10th c. to late 19th century, the opening of the country to Western customs during the Meiji period led to its gradual disappearance. A tradition practiced mainly by women but also some men, it was a practice almost exclusively reserved for the elite – members of aristocracy and the samurai.

Ohaguro was also practiced in Southeast Asian and Oceanic cultures, where the teeth blackening was usually done during puberty. It was primarily done to preserve the teeth into old age and was seen as a sign of maturity, beauty, and civilization for the aristocracy and samurai.”Eli Wirija, photographer and creative director for this story

“With this story, I would like to highlight the traditional beauty practice that existed within Asian cultures in the past that was erased from imperialism. Especially within the social climate of every culture catering to the proximity of whiteness.”

Vintage top by Issey Miyake from Shanice Archive

“I wanted to explore traditional beauty standards that may differ from our current times. This is also a fascinating study on how colonialism affects and erases indigenous practices.

Vintage top by Sue Wong from Shanice Archive

“The focus is that we are beautiful within our own tradition and to celebrate our ideals instead.”