Laetitia Ky creates sculptures that celebrate her roots—literally. Born in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, the 23-year-old artist and model uses hair extensions, wool, wire, thread, and needles to form large headpieces in disparate shapes, and then posts pictures of them to her Instagram account. They are campy, whimsical, and incredibly eye-catching, but beyond the surface, her pieces serve to comment on issues regarding race, gender, and social justice reform. From one sculpture fashioned into a uterus to one of a woman’s body menstruating to others supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, Ky is using her sizeable platform (347,000 followers to date) to empower and encourage others to actively discuss topics that are normally thought of as taboo.
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“I have sometimes blamed this body, this biology that makes me a woman,” reads one of her posts. “This vagina, this womb, these breasts and all these elements that make me a woman… this biology that make me live so much discriminations. But there is no reason to blame it because it’s a beautiful gift. Today [I] want to celebrate it.”
Indeed, celebrating Black beauty, particularly the traditions and styles of her home continent, is the crux of Ky’s work. She takes inspiration from the coifs of women from pre-colonial Africa—when myriad tribes would mould their hair into elaborate shapes to convey strength, power, and allure—and reinterprets them with symbols that can easily be disseminated by audiences today.
Taking note of this output is Marc Jacobs, who enlisted Ky for a digital campaign to promote a line of handbags. The American designer, of course, is no stranger to art collaborations, having partnered with Magda Archer for his eponymous line and Yayoi Kusama, Richard Prince, and Takashi Murakami during his tenure at Louis Vuitton. And though Ky didn’t have any input in the design of the collection, the brand gave her full license to create three images that stayed true to her aesthetic—one that unequivocally needs to be represented more in the fashion industry.
Ahead, Ky elaborates to BAZAAR.com on her hair sculptures, collaborating with Marc Jacobs, and how she has even more ideas in that head of hers.
How would you describe your hair sculptures? And how do you go about creating them?
I would describe my sculptures as authentic, because I never try to censor any of my ideas. I also consider them as Black empowered. My African heritage is my first source of inspiration. When I have an idea, I either do a sketch if there is a lot of detail, or just visualise it clearly if it’s simple. After the sketch, I try to think about an adequate background for the picture. When I find something good, I just use some wire, thread, needle and hair extensions to give life to the idea. When I finish the sculpture, I take a picture of myself using my camera and a tripod. But sometimes my little sister helps me to take the picture. Just after the shoot, when I am satisfied with the pictures, I undo the hair.
What is the underlying message behind them?
There are so many things. I use it to promote diversity and messages that are important to me and to speak about my experience as a person and as a woman of colour. Globally, what I try to do is to promote the Black beauty and Black aesthetics, but also empower people—especially women.
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What are the reactions you’ve received after posting them on Instagram?
The first time I posted a hair creation, only my close friends on Facebook saw it, and they were very encouraging. I was doing it only for fun at the beginning. I didn’t plan to make hair sculpture my thing. But sculpture after sculpture, post after post, the reactions were bigger and bigger. It was when I started to receive messages from Black women telling me that what I was doing was helping them to feel more confident, to feel better about their skin and their hair that it became serious for me. I realised that me and my work had the power to help people, and I started to use it to share serious messages. I started talking about my experience as an African woman in the world, my point of view, and feminist statements that I think could help others.
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How did this partnership with Marc Jacobs come about?
I was scouted by Elite Model World and won the Global Elite Model Look contest on the digital front. A few weeks ago, my agent, who has a great relationship with the brand, let me know they are interested in working with me. I was extremely excited when I heard about this, as Marc Jacobs, of course, is a very well-respected and established brand globally, and I feel so honoured that Marc and his team thought of me and used me for this digital campaign. I hope we can collaborate on more projects in the future.
What was the process like creating these specific sculptures for a fashion brand?
Once I saw the pictures of the bags I had to promote, I was happy, because I like them a lot, which is very important when one is promoting something. For each bag, the idea came pretty naturally. For the tote bag, my absolute favourite, I was thinking about what I could put in it. I immediately thought about cute animals, since that’s universally loved. For the quilted Softshot bag, I thought of a cool way I could carry it. Immediately, I thought about carrying it with some hair hands instead of my real hands. And for the snapshot of the DTM bag, I wanted to create something that was directly representative of the brand. And this is why I did the MJ letters.
I also scrolled a lot through their Instagram to make sure my ideas could fit with their aesthetic and reflect the brand directly. Then, as soon I received the items, I was ready to shoot. I put some makeup on, chose the best wall in my home, and paired the clothes I received with the bags. I did the entire shoot of three pictures in six hours. It was super organic and fun.
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How was it collaborating with Marc Jacobs?
I was very lucky. The brand was extremely open, and they didn’t put any limitations on me about what I could create or not. They didn’t give me strict directions. They were very open to let me do my thing for them, which is why what I created came very naturally. It is always a big bonus when a client trusts you enough to let you do you, because that’s when you can be the most creative.
And I am very touched by the reaction Marc had concerning my work. The way he commented, telling me he was in love with what I created gave me a lot of strength. I am very honoured, grateful, and happy to be able to work with someone like him. And I really hope I get to meet him one day. It was a dream collaboration.
Is fashion an industry you’ve always wanted to tap into?
Completely. I have been passionate about fashion and beauty since I was young. Being a model isn’t the only thing I want to offer in the fashion industry. I know I have the potential to create too. I have so many ideas and innovative concepts in my head that could be great, but everything in its time. I want to focus on my modelling career first.
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US