Laetitia Ky’s hair sculptures celebrate black beauty and power
Laetitia Ky, an artist and fashion designer based in Ivory Coast, has used hair as a means of creative expression since childhood. In his forthcoming book, love and righteousness with Princeton Architectural Press, she recounts how, as a girl, she refashioned the white Barbie dolls available to her by cutting her hair and with a needle and thread, replacing it with more braided hair that resembled the his.
These first impulses will reappear in adulthood when his desire to reconcile the images of beauty conveyed by Western society with his own reflection. love and righteousness, a combination art book and memoir, uses photography and storytelling to showcase Ky’s intricate hair sculptures constructed using her own hair, extensions, yarn, yarn, and yarn. Via her social media accountswhere she has garnered over 6 million followers combined, Ky uses her hair sculptures to address and create conversations about the sexual and racial oppression of African women, harmful beauty standards, mental health stigmas, and Moreover.
Ky credits her exploration of the online natural hair community with sparking her interest in experimenting with her hair.
“One day one of these accounts posted a photo album of hairstyles African women wore before colonization and I felt inspired,” she told Hyperallergic in an interview. “They were beautiful sculptures and shapes decorated with gold, pearls, shells. I was impressed and felt the need to experiment with my own hair.
Her first hair sculpture, Ky said, was a three-foot tall piece standing above her head.
“I posted it on my Facebook and all my friends and family were impressed,” she said. “I got a lot of encouragement and that kept me going.”
As her practice evolved, Ky’s hair sculptures became more elaborate. “Every time I posted I got more likes, comments and shares until one day one of my photo sets went viral,” she said. “I shaped my hair like a pair of hands and created a dozen images of those hands doing different actions.”
While they started out as purely aesthetic experiments, the feedback Ky received from other black women was impactful and informed the direction her work was going to take. Ky said she started getting messages from women around the world telling her that her social media posts were helping them fight negative messages about black women’s beauty. This led her to realize that the work she was doing was inherently political and inspired her to be bolder and more direct with her hair sculptures.
Ky sees her role as a continental African feminist as integral to her work and the issues she addresses in her hair sculptures. She cites the clashes that African feminists sometimes have with Western feminists around notions of gender and gender-based violence as another source for the subjects of her sculpture.
“The experience of African women is very different from the experience of Western women,” said the artist. “Here we consider our gender-based oppression because of female genital mutilation, strong menstruation stigma, flattened breasts, strong obstetrical violence, lack of education for girls, forced marriage of little girls and so many other experiences that we have because of our body and our biology.
“This perspective has caused and continues to cause a lot of clashes with Western feminists who take women’s oppression through a gender lens,” Ky continued. “It’s something I can respect but don’t identify with. As an artist and African feminist, I have a duty to make our point of view heard, which is too often silenced and forgotten.
Many sculptures of love and righteousness address the particular relationship that African women have with sex and gender through photographs and sculptures that address obstetrical violence, breast flattening and female genital mutilation. Ky hopes, through her continued experimentation, to demonstrate the limitless ability of black hair, and by extension black people, to transform, challenge and transmute the status quo.