Graphic by Samantha N. Olson. Photo by Laetitia Ky/Instagram.
In black culture, hair is and has been a representation of identity and creativity. Dating back hundreds of years, braiding techniques and intricate woven hairstyles have been a direct representation of social status, wealth and stage of life for the person. During times of slavery, the hair of those captured was cut in order to strip them of their humanity. Even now, as we sit in the 21st century, black hair is discriminated against and used as a tool for villainization of black communities.
Laetitia Ky, a 22-year-old feminist artist born in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, embodies the belief that braiding black hair is a creative art form by sculpting her hair into different objects or words that depict a message. Her form of activism comments on many issues, including sexual harassment and government corruption.
In an interview with CNN, Ky discusses how she never had any interest in her hair growing up. While her mother was a natural at braiding, it wasn’t until later in her life that she found a way to connect with her heritage and character while also fighting for things she believes in. She was originally interested in fashion, but while teaching herself sewing she stumbled upon photographs of women in pre-colonial African tribes with intricate and unique hairstyles.
“Things have come a long way, but even today kinky hair is taboo for some Africans. I want to look back to our traditions and draw from them,” she told CNN. This sparked an idea within Ky and she decided to play around with traditional styles of braiding though giving them a modern twist.
After discovering the natural hair movement in 2012, Ky made the decision to switch to her natural hair and use extensions for her intricate designs. Her sculptures are purely her own craft and the tools she uses consist of wire, wool, a needle and thread. Her career started when she began posting her art on Instagram and after receiving messages from women speaking about how her craft has boosted their confidence, Ky decided that it was time for her art to take a more political and activist route.
The messages that Ky received talked about how inspiring she was and how her outspokenness gave others the courage to not remain silent on important issues. Now, she has almost 400,000 followers on Instagram and is featured in magazines all over the world. Ky continues to inspire those to embrace their hair and never remain silent when acts of injustice are present.
As the battle for equality rages on, artists and activists like Laetitia Ky are crucial. It’s appalling that even after hundreds of years, black hair is still unable to peacefully exist without harassment and criticism. It’s impossible to discuss black history and culture without referencing hair and its importance in the roles of oppression and empowerment.