One of Laeti’s captions on Instagram reads ‘slay with your big nose, big lips, and your savage hair’ and it is with such boldness that she attempts to stand up against conventional standards of beauty. Ky plays with striking colours in her portraits, and uses simple but vibrant props to create a picture – fresh flowers, gold-lined spectacles and a guitar. A proponent of the power of social media, Ky believes that it is her way of reaching out to people everywhere from the Ivory Coast. Inspired by the idea of an African super-hero whose weapon is her hair, Ky’s wild creativity is infectious.
Culture Trip: To begin – how were you inspired to create sculpted art out of your hair? How long ago did you begin?
Laeti Ky: As early as I can remember I have always loved hair styling. I learned to braid hair with my mother when I was five, because I loved to do it and so I really pushed her to teach me. Before going natural around five years ago, I would rarely wear my hair outdoors without a protective style because it would get so dry, and external aggressors would make it tangle terribly.
Braids became almost the only style that suited me, particularly the Havana twist. To avoid looking the same every day, I would have fun creating original styles with my braids. But it was looking at a photo album on Instagram showing exceptional Afro hairstyles from certain African tribes that made me want to try something more artistic with my hair. With time, I became more skilled and my hair is one of my forms of expression today. I think it started less than a year ago.
CT: You’ve written about how it is your ‘self-expression’. How do you think the sculpted hair reflects your personality?
LK: My hair is just one element of the expression of my personality. I do more than hair styling but I admit, it is what I’m getting the most attention for at the moment. Thanks to these hairstyles I can show the people who follow me on social media a bit of my personality – a little eccentric, and a lover of art.
CT: Tell us a bit more about the ‘hands’ series?
LK: The series with the hands came to me without any particular premeditation. I was thinking about a female African superhero that draws her power from her hair, and uses it to do what she wants, when she wants it. The idea came into my mind and I decided to do it. I had to do several trials until the hands looked real. Once I had the technique down, it took me one and a half hours to make the pair of hands.
I did the photo shoot myself, alone in my room with my camera, the timer and a tripod. I shot for about half a day before obtaining 14 satisfactory shots and I posted them. I was quite excited about getting a good reaction, but I never imagined that it would be such a hit. It was the first time something I made went viral! It was wildly reposted and by quite influential media. My Instagram account got a huge boost with 8,000 additional followers in just a few days. It was hugely gratifying and it motivated me to continue, but it also put on a bit of pressure.
CT: Why did you decide to make a map of Africa out of your hair? What’s the message?
LK: In everything I do, particularly in my work, I take inspiration from Africa. I therefore thought of representing one of my main sources of inspiration in a hairstyle, because I had used braids as a form of expression for quite some time. I wore Africa on my head like a crown, because I see the African woman as a beautiful princess who is who she is, thanks to all the values that Africa bestows on her.
CT: What are the methods and materials you use to make your art with your hair? How long does it take?
LK: What I use for a hairstyle varies, depending on what I want to do. I generally use thread, wool, hairpins, needle and thread, etc. With the hand series it’s the first time that I’ve used metallic wire and I think it won’t be the last. As I go along I will use more and more materials to have more and more options. Each time I visualize a hairstyle I try to objectively visualize what I will need and the process to make it, and it is really different from one project to the next. As for the time it takes, it varies anywhere from 20 minutes to close to two hours.
CT: Your work got popular through social media – what do you feel about social media as an exhibition space?
LK: Social media is for me the best means of communication and expression when you want to make your work known to the maximum possible number of people, especially when you don’t have the funds to pay for a mass media campaign. Even big companies with big budgets use social media. With social media, connections are made easily and shares allow you to reach people anywhere in the world.
Proof is that I am from Ivory Coast, I haven’t travelled much, but I have followers from all over. At the same time, precisely because it reaches everybody, the drawbacks of this channel of communication are not to be underestimated if you lack self-confidence (insults, mockery, cruelty, hostility, etc.). Luckily I learned not to let those get to me and I focus on the good comments and encouraging messages and, at the point where I’m at right now, no matter how many negative messages I get I will never stop expressing myself.
CT: Finally – what are your plans moving forward?
LK: I would like to make a living in the world of art and entertainment and my short-term project is to launch a line of clothing and accessories. I am also working with a friend on a comic inspired from the character I created in my latest photo series, but nothing is yet clearly defined on that at the moment. I am passionate about film and I think that in the future I may go into screenwriting and acting. I have fashion webcast projects and lots of art projects in the pipeline. I try to do one thing at a time, but it’s not that easy.