For many of us, a French braid is probably the fanciest hairdo we could feasibly achieve. But Laetitia Ky is not like most. The 23-year-old artist and activist, who is based in the Ivory Coast, has achieved internet stardom with her hair-raising sculptures, shaped not from marble or steel, but with her very own tresses — see it for yourself on her Instagram and TikTok.
Using her natural locks and hair extensions, along with wool, wire, thread and needles, Ky creates life-size headpieces in jaw-dropping, gravity-defying designs, ranging from the whimsical (Santa Claus! Lion King!) to the inspirational (Rihanna!) to the political — over the years, she has conveyed powerful messages on racism, domestic violence, sexual harassment, body shaming, climate change and more. For instance, Ky recently crafted a sculpture depicting the Black Lives Matter fist in support of the movement, as well as a pistol demonstrating her opposition to gun violence, and a woman in the midst of the monthly cycle as a statement against female genital mutilation.
Ky has said before that growing up, she never gave her hair much thought, although she learned to braid when she was only five years old, practicing on her dolls and her sister. But a combination of factors — such as going back to her natural hair and discovering a social media account documenting hairstyles worn by women in pre-colonial African tribes — compelled her to celebrate her roots, quite literally. She came to realise the impact her art had on others, and how she could use her sizeable platform to help bring about positive social change and to spread ideas of self-love, tolerance, and respect. And we’re all the better for it.
Her ingenuity isn’t going unnoticed, either. Ky currently counts some 350,000 followers on Instagram and 1.7 million on TikTok. Just last month, she teamed up with Marc Jacobs on a digital campaign for his accessories collection, and she’s also a part of the cast of Philippe Lacôte’s latest film Night of the Kings, which is slated to debut at the upcoming Venice International Film Festival. Remember Laetitia Ky’s name, because she is definitely going places.
Check out some of her most innovative works below.