A Black artist’s crowning glory

david wilson for the boston globe

Like a lot of girls growing up in Ivory Coast, Laetitia Ky grew up using relaxers to straighten her hair. “I wasn’t very familiar with my real texture,” she said. “Everyone around us relaxed their hair: everyone, every age. It was just the norm.”

At age 9, all the girls were forced to shave their hair off to avoid distracting the boys at school. “That’s when I realized that I loved my hair, because I missed it,” said Ky. When she was able to grow it out again, she returned to relaxers, but overuse damaged her hair so badly that she went searching for help online.

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“That’s where I discovered the natural hair community in the US. An an Ivoirian girl, it was the first time in my life I was seeing a Black woman with natural hair,” said Ky. She shaved it off again, this time by choice, to let it grow back in its natural form.

One day she saw images online that startled her. “One of those accounts on Facebook posted a photo series of West African women, showing the type of hairstyles they had before colonialism,” said Ky, who still lives in Ivory Coast. “It was literally sculpture: huge, big incredible shapes. I never saw anything like that! It inspired me right away.”

Ky began experimenting with her own hair, first sculpting it into a straight line above her head, then into circles and squares. When she created a piece that shaped her hair into a second pair of hands, it went viral overnight. “I started receiving messages from Black women who said that seeing my hair was helping them to love themselves a little more,” she said.

This spring, Ky, who turns 26 in June, published “Love & Justice” (Princeton Architectural Press), a vividly illustrated account of her journey as artist and activist. “For me, it was important to go from the digital space to something in the real world,” she said. “I just believe that we have to be our own representation and to be the one to really put ourselves on the scene.”

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Laetitia Ky will read at 5 p.m. Monday in a virtual event hosted by Harvard Book Store.

Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.

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