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The young Ivorian artist (born in 1996) redefines the canons of contemporary African forms of expression, through an articulated artistic path. Laetitia Ky creates a total work of art, a linguistic koinè that synergistically combines the time-based preparatory dimension of the performance (the complex hairstyle sculptures that require hours of preparation and a specific ritualistic approach). A performance that serves as a prerequisite for the actual “capillary” sculptural expression, taking the shape of photography, a medium that becomes the object and communicative engine of social media networks, which in turn become an integral part of creative process.

This methodical dimension also offers space for painting which, amplifying them with a falsely naïve register, reiterates the themes of the artist’s sculptures and photographs, but also music (consider Laetitia Ky’s collaboration with Di’Ja) and fashion design (with her self-produced brand Kystroy) which the artist intelligently uses to diffuse her socio-political, self-love and gender-related messages, while also rejecting the anthropometric parameters that define fashion (the S, M, L, XL sizes replaced by Stunning, Magnificent and Lovely).

After earning a degree in Business Administration from Institut National Polytechnique Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Yamoussoukro, Laetitia Ky would quickly abandon the managerial path in favour of a social and political commitment, strongly characterised by the instrumental use of artistic expression, becoming part of that generation of creative minds able – with a smartphone and a flurry of ideas – to revolutionise the parameters of the international art scene, communication and fashion, from the comfort of their bedroom.

The choice of this unusual and eccentric plastic expression, which relies on the use – the modelling – of the artist’s own hair, synergistically intersects a “committed form of body art” and the photographic form, subsequently adapted to social media networks (Instagram), which themselves, with their unique aesthetics and their interactive and experiential dynamics, become genetic building blocks the creative process.

The artist inherited the ability to create complex hairstyles from her mother when she was just 5 years old and would continue to enrich it with the study and research of similar forms of Ivorian female “hair sculpture” dating back to the pre-colonial period, traced back in photographic archives, or tribal forms such as those of the Himba women of northern Namibia or southern Angola. This extensive research is enriched by a form of political and identity activism that alludes to a rejection of the acceptance of Western hairstyles and standards of beauty, which denied the natural ones suited to African hair and refer back to the fashion standards imposed by colonialism.

For Laetitia Ky, in line with what Susan Sontag ascertained – and as today’s social media networks demonstrate – photographic images are not statements of the world, but pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can produce or acquire and that have, as their purpose, the aim to influence the surrounding world, to change it in a positive way.

A process of growing empowerment – as the artist likes to describe it – that blends art and life seamlessly and without diaphragms, raising the private, the biographical dimension to a collective and universal level.

Indeed, the artist is well aware that today, photographic images are the main sources behind our knowledge of the past or our perception of the present and uses them as weapons of political action, for a form of social activism, promoting universal issues such as body acceptance and self-love, equality, respect and tolerance or opposing patriarchy and bullying, racial and gender discrimination.

In Europe, in the 1970s, the emerging Body Art could count on antecedents such as the Japanese Noh theatre form, Antonin Artaud’s “Theatre of Cruelty”, or the unsettling piéces by playwrights such as Genet, Beckett and Ionesco, while in America, it found extensive support in the studies of the “Behaviourist current”. The Ivorian artist, enriches the legacy of these phenomena with historical depth and ritual, spiritual and mediumistic values in the use of the body and of masks in West Africa.

The figures created using hair and with the help of wires and thread – once African women used to resort to mud to support their hairstyle – bring to mind Christian Lattier’s sculptural lesson and flexible use of materials, a master and a reference figure of Ivorian art.

Alessandro Romanini