We are delighted to interview Ivorian artist, social commentator and author Laetitia Ky on the FiLiA Podcast. She is a political artist known for her hair sculptures, which she uses to raise awareness about the structural inequality and oppression of women and girls. She is a one-of-a-kind artist, activist and creative voice based in the Ivory Coast. Laetitia taught herself how to use dreads and wire to challenge the way afro hair is portrayed culturally in patriarchy and how it can be used as a tool of feminist solidarity.
Her unique sculptures, created using her afro hair and just wires (without specialised products), are mediated through photography and videos, and celebrate the artist's roots around themes that are often delicate and uncomfortable. She is the author of “Love and Justice: A Journey of Empowerment, Activism, and Embracing Black Beauty” and exhibits her work, to critical acclaim, around the world.
Laetitia Ky speaks with FiLiA Spokeswoman Raquel Rosario Sánchez about her use of hair as a professional art medium, the political messages behind her art, the oftentimes oppressive way girls and women are treated in patriarchal society and the differences, in her view, between Global North versus Global South feminism.
You can follow Laetitia Ky’s groundbreaking work on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and TikTok. You can purchase her work through her gallery and find her book “Love and Justice: A Journey of Empowerment, Activism, and Embracing Black Beauty” in all excellent libraries.
Buy Laetitia's book from the FiLiA Book Shop.
Raquel Rosario Sánchez from FiLiA in conversation with Laetitia Ky
Author of: Love and Justice, A Journey of Empowerment, Activism and Embracing Black Beauty.
Raquel: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the FiLiA podcast. My name is Raquel Rosario Sánchez. And I'm the spokeswoman for FiLiA. Today we are overjoyed to be speaking with Laetitia Ky who is a one of a kind artist, activist, and creative voice based in Ivory Coast, West Africa. Her unique sculptures, created using her Afro hair are mediated through photography and videos and celebrate the artist's roots, exploring themes that are often delicate and uncomfortable.
Her creations represent a powerful communication tool conceived to raise awareness on issues of race, gender, and social justice, adopting elements from Ivorian customs and folk lore, elements of natural identity, reinterpreted as a contemporary key. Laetitia we are absolutely delighted to speak with you.
Before we begin, can I just ask, how are you?
Laetitia: Oh, I'm very fine. Thank you so much. What about you?
Raquel: I'm okay. I'm pretty excited to speak with you because I had never encountered your type of work, you know, so you're definitely a one of a kind artist. And then something that I should have said in the description is that your work has been focused, it’s a lot broader, there's race, there's national identity, there's politics, there's art, but there's also a lot about it that is about women and girls’ rights.
So we're going to talk about all of that, but, I'm so pleased that you're here with us. And I wanted to begin our podcast today by asking, we're going right back to the beginning.
How did you become aware that women and girls were treated differently in society in comparison to men and boys?
Laetitia: Okay. I think, well, I was born in Ivory Coast and I grew up there.
I lived there like all my life. And even if it's an amazing country, very warm where people are amazing. It's also a country where the difference between men and women, the way we treat women and men and women are extremely strong. I mean, there is a lot of evolution now, but when I was a child, it was like really big.
For example, when I was in primary school, every morning when you go to school, all the girls of the class need to take a broom to clean the class while the boys are waiting outside. And then they will go back and everyone will do the class, but only the girls are asked to do that. And in many other areas, you just have to look around you. It was very obvious. It wasn't subtle at all.
Even the way the parents treat the girls and the boys, they have the rights to do more bad things. But if you are a girl and for example, you, you running a little bit too much or you’re too loud, your punishment would be bigger and it was like this all the time.
And then you growing up, you become like you're not a girl anymore. You become a little bit of a woman and then the harassment begins, in the street, at school, and everywhere around you.
So to me, it's always been very obvious that there is a big difference between the way, at least Ivorian society, treats men and women.
Raquel: Absolutely. And that sounds pretty horrific, like getting the girls to clean the classrooms and the boys to wait outside. You think about what that says to little girls, I mean, in feminism, we talk about the indoctrination process, the socialization process, but it sounds like that's a very practical way of teaching girls and women that they're sort of second class. And that's devastating.
Okay, so you became aware and noticed the difference between how we are treated versus how boys and men are being treated, but then at one point did it click in your mind that I, Laetitia, want to do something about it?
Laetitia: So I always been pretty, pretty rebellious, I don't know if it's the right word in English, but like, if something doesn't sit right with me, I will talk about it. It's always been very natural. Whatever the topic is I will talk about it.
So even before having a big platform on social media, if I will go through my day and something would happen to me, I would just do a Facebook post about it, talk about it and just express that I'm mad because for example, this man tried to lift my skirts today in the street, or this man did this to me, or this happened or that happened. I would just talk about it.
At the beginning, not a lot of people were like seeing it because I didn't have a big platform, but doing it was a way for me to just feel better about the situation. Because when I was doing it first, I felt like I was sharing a little bit of the pain I felt when the experience happened, but second, I also felt a lot of like support because I wasn't alone.
Many women will come to me and say, Oh, it's also happened to me and you're not alone. We're together in this. So don't worry, we're there for you.
So I took the habit to start sharing those little things happening to me all the time, but it was just random Facebook posts once in a while. And I wasn't considering me even as an activist, but I was just doing it very naturally because for me it was a way to just lighten a little bit of the burden that it is to be a girl or a woman in the Ivorian society.
And it's way later that, the decision to be like an activist came about it, but like the journey to reach that point is very long. I don't know if you want me to talk about it now.
Raquel: If you want to yeah.
Laetitia: Okay. I was doing those things. I was like, still, maybe in high school when I was sharing once in a while, those type of experiences.
And then at the same period because, okay, I don't know, because if I want to talk about all this process, I will start to talk about my hair and how I start creating with my hair.
Raquel: Should I sort of move on so we can get to the hair part?
Laetitia: Yes, and then I will come back to the activist point again.
Raquel: Okay. So, tell us a little bit about what was your relationship with your hair like when you were growing up? You know, there's a lot of stereotypes and assumptions and really horrible expectations that black and brown women should straighten our hair. At least in the Dominican Republic, that's very prevalent and it's only been now recently that we have a natural hair movement that is about sort of empowering women in accepting our hair.
Tell me about your personal experience with your hair growing up.
Laetitia: Okay, so it's the same because Ivory Coast is an old French colony and we're just independent for about a little bit more than 60 years. We're still very impacted by the trace of colonization.
I mean, you can see this in Ivorian and self-esteem in general. And when I was a child, it was way stronger. We're trying to, you know, reclaim, try to accept we are more and more. But we're still have very far to go to reach that point.
And when I was a child, every woman around me was using a hair relaxer.
I had never seen even one woman with a natural hair. It was the norm. Relaxing your hair is just as natural as drink water or brushing your teeth. It was just the norm for absolutely every woman. And maybe I had my first hair relaxer when I was like five years old. And you can't even be mad at the parents because no one here was educated about the danger of those chemicals on children or on sensitive scalps. It's now that people start to be more educated, but it was the norm.
So as soon you start to go to school because at five you will go to school for the first year five or four, parents will just relax your hair. So I didn't have a big relationship with my hair, it was just there.
Every month or every two months, my mum will just relax my hair and then she will braid it. And that's it. I didn't hate my hair. I didn't love my hair. It was just there. I just didn't care about it. It was just existing.
And then after primary school, we reached secondary school, and then there is a very horrific rules here, in public school, not in private school, but I did public school when I was in secondary school. They say that girls and women, we have to shave our heads by force, because if we have long hair and if we too much focus on beauty, and if we focus on beauty, we will seduce the boys around and we will not be focused on education. So we all have to shave our heads, like really shave. And it was a very strict rules.
If one day you come and there is a little bit of hair, like one centimetre of hair on your head, the professor will take a big pair of scissors in front of the whole class and he will just cut your hair in front of everyone and then just send you back home.
So you had to always have your hair shaved to go to school. And it was very like, I have to say that I'm not going to say traumatic is a very strong word, but it bothered me a lot because at this moment, I realized that, okay, maybe I liked a little bit my hair because you become a little bit of a woman and then your image, beauty starts to be a little bit important for you.
And then you have to have your hair shaved by force. You can't just let your hair grow and do all the hairstyle you want. No, you just have to shave it.
So for three years, I had to shave my hair. And then when I reached high school, the rule wasn't forced anymore, you just can let your hair grow, but you can't put extensions in.
So I was happy because I was older and now I could have my hair longer. So it wasn't like before because before shaving my hair that was very tiny and it was my mum that was taking care of my hair. But now that I was in high school, I was older and I was the one taking care of my hair now. And my mum used to like relax my hair each two months. So it wasn't all the time.
But me, because I was older and I was starting to do more mature hairstyle, I needed to have straight hair all the time. So I would relax my hair every two weeks or every three weeks. Like, as soon there is a little bit of growth, I would relax it. And because those products are very, very strong, to relax that much is extremely bad.
So I had very weak and fragile hair. It was always breaking off, but I didn't care because every girl's hair was like that. Very unhealthy because we all use a bunch of relaxer all the time. So I wasn't feeling like I'm the only one to have an unhealthy hair. It was just the norm. So it's happened like this.
And then I have my high school degree. And then when I have my high school degree, I'm very happy. Now I can put in some hair extensions because I'm done with high school. I can do whatever I want with my hair and to celebrate. I take a picture on internet. I think it was a picture of Beyonce with box spreads. It was very beautiful. Or maybe another celebrity, I'm not sure. And then I go to the hairdresser and I say, Okay, I want this style. Please do it for me. So she did it and I look completely gorgeous. I love it. But it is extremely tight because here the norm for a beautiful hairstyle is to have it extremely tight which is like a gauge of quality.
If you braided finish your hair and it's not tight and you don't have like a big headache. It's not good. So I was like, okay, fine.
Raquel: So there’s a whole conversation there to be had about women, hair and pain.
Laetitia: Exactly. I agree. 100%. So I was like, okay, fine. My hair is very painful. So I guess she did a good job.
And I went home. I'm not about to sleep, but I'm like, okay, in two or three days we'll be okay. But two or three days after it's not okay. My hair starts falling off in the front of my head it starts to fall off, some braids start to detach from my head and I'm very like, I'm horrified. I don't know what to do.
So I take down all the braids because in general, when you do some box braid, you will keep it for a month or a month and a half. It's for a lot of time. But like, after just five days, I just took down everything because my hair was starting to fall off. It was so tight. And then when I take down everything, I realized that I've lost all my hair in the front.
It was horrifying to me. So instead of letting my hair rest and just, you know, just stop stressing my scalp, I take another very bad decision. I do a weave, weave to hide all the hair that fell off in the front. So I do another, and it's also a very tight style, maybe a little bit less than the box braid, but.
It's also very tight. So I do it. I let it for like a month and when I take it down, it's worse. Maybe I lost a quarter of my hair and at this period, this day, you know, I had so much hair loss that I almost cried because my hair was already very weak. So it didn't support all those stressful hairstyles.
And then I don't know what to do. So I take my laptop, I think it was my mum’s laptop before. And then I start to search on internet for some method to make my hair grow again. And for the first time, I was 16. For the first time on YouTube, I see some women, black women from the US for the first time I see some black women with their real hair.
I think it was the period where the Nashville movement was very, how to say that, very famous there. And then I discovered them and I'm in awe. I'm seeing all of those women who look like me having natural hair and it wasn't even something like I considered before. And I just realized that there is something else that is possible, that there is a life that is possible without straightening your hair and that's where everything changed.
Raquel: That was very beautifully put, but also it sounds like there was the realization of I have been taught to hate my hair for a number of years. And what you were discovering is actually my hair can become a tool. And I can reclaim it, and I can try to express myself artistically or politically through my hair, you know, we wouldn't massively think about those connections, but it sounds a little bit, you can tell me a little bit in a second, but like, it sounds a little bit like you've been able to build a career on that awareness, on that acknowledgement, and I think that that's a very powerful message to patriarchy.
Laetitia: 100% I agree
Raquel: In the Dominican Republic we have this saying, it doesn't really translate well into English. But it's sort of like, if you want to have pretty hair, you have to put up with a lot of pain.
Laetitia: Oh my gosh.
Raquel: And we teach little girls. You know, if you want your hair to be pretty, you have to, you have to put up with a lot of pain.
And I remember, I used to also use hair relaxer. My hair is very curly. And I, and I remember when I was maybe nine or ten, it wasn't my parents who like coerced me into relaxing my hair. It was me pleading and begging my parents to relax my hair because I saw the messages from beauty magazines, from society, from the media, from like ‘the pretty girls’ in school.
And the pretty girls were the ones who had, like, straight hair, and I didn't have straight hair, you know? So, girls the world over who are not white women, white women with straight hair, they really are under so much pressure to reject something so natural as the hair that grows from our head.
So, it's a wonderful story of you creating a tool, your hair has become a tool, over something that was meant to cause you shame and embarrassment and just pain. Sounds like there was a lot of pain involved in your journey.
Laetitia: Yes, 100%. And I agree with you, like, even beyond hair, for women in general, beauty has to be painful.
Most grooming techniques that we have to do in general, they will be painful. Epilation, wearing high heels and wearing very tight clothes to be able to have maybe a flat stomach. I don't know, but everything we have to do, you know, pretty hurts. People say pretty hurts and every woman has to go through that.
And it's beyond hair and it's crazy.
Raquel: Absolutely. So I want to ask you a little bit about your work. You know, would you describe your work that you do with your hair, I mean, I know that you are sort of like a very multifaceted professional person, but like the work that you do with your hair, do you consider that to be political or artistic? Is it a mix of both?
Laetitia: Exactly. 100% a mix of both. But when I started, my intention was just to create beautiful things. And then it's evolved because of the response I had. It's evolved and become very political.
Raquel: Hold on one second. In the sense that I'm playing with these shapes with my hair because it looks beautiful. And then you realize, actually, I can send messages, political messages through this forum.
Laetitia: Exactly, exactly. So I can try to explain a little bit how it happened. So when I said, for example, that I discovered the Nashville community in America, I took the decision to shave my hair. Completely.
And I have pretty fairly long hair, even if it was very damaged, it was pretty long. So I shaved the whole thing. And then I tried to rediscover this new texture that I don't even know. At the beginning it's very easy because it's short, you don't have to do a lot of maintenance. It's okay. And then after six months, seven months, it's become a little bit long and it became more challenging and you live in Ivory Coast, the type of product they are advertising on YouTube living in the U. S. is not the same type of brand and product you can find here. So I was pretty lost. Plus, there were a lot of women with a lot of looser curls than mine, because I have, I don't know, I have what people would call 4C here, like it's the most, it's not even curl, it's coil. People would say coil because it's very, very tight.
And all those women I was watching on YouTube, they had curls. So it was way looser. So the more my hair was growing, the more I was lost. And I didn't know what to do with it, how to deal with it. And combing my hair was so painful when the comb was breaking and sometimes I was even crying and considering using relaxer again.
So it was a very difficult journey to try to accept this texture of mine, and then to encourage myself, I start following on internet, um, some accounts, you know, those accounts that make the promotion of black beauty, black hair. And I was seeing all those beautiful picture every day on my feed, and it was encouraging me to not just come back to relaxing. So I was like, if they're able to do it, I can do it too. I have to figure it out.
And then one day, one of those. I want to say that one of those accounts posted a very interesting photo album. And that's this photo album that made me start to do the hair sculpture because this photo album was showing the type of hairstyle West African women were wearing before colonization.
And it was very ancient black and white pictures and I was completely in awe because it was like, how to say that, it was like sculpture also. It was very sculptural. It was big shapes decorated with some peel, gold, beads. And then I start to make a lot of research about those hair styles and I discovered that in pre-colonial societies, women and men use hair styles not only as a way to be beautiful, but also as a way to communicate because it was a way to send some message to other people.
For example, some tribes, we have only those type of hairstyles so when you see someone with this hairstyle you directly know what is his tribe or what is his religion. Some hairstyles were only for married woman. Some was for maybe I don't know, fighters. Some style was for depending of what you was in the society, there was a hairstyle for it
So I discovered that hair was not only to be beautiful. It could also be a way to communicate.
Raquel: Well, before you sort of going to that thought. I just want you to know how interesting it is that you're mentioning that hair in pre-colonial societies, in your research and experience, it was used in a way that was meant to celebrate the person, celebrate the culture, celebrate the hair, the power and beauty of it.
And then post colonization, it became sort of an instrument of torture for women and girls.
Laetitia: That's crazy. Yes. So I was saying that when I saw those hair sculpture, I wanted to experiment myself and see what I was able to do with my own braid. Because as I said, I was struggling with my hair and to be able to not touch it all the time. I was doing a lot of protective styles. So I had all always those very long kinky braids that I was carrying all the time. It was a way for me to not comb my hair every day, not touch my hair every day and not just traumatize my scalp also every day. And I was like, okay, I have those long braids, maybe I can do something with it.
Braiding hair has always been very natural for me since I'm a child. Because every day around me, women, my mum, my aunts, they were just braiding all the time and I'm very good to imitate. So as young as five years old, I start to braid my dolls, my little sister, even some adults. I was learning very fast.
So I was like, okay. So I had my little background in braiding. So I was like, okay, maybe I can try to create something and let's see what it will look like. The first time I tried to do a hair sculpture, it's like a straight line on top of my head. And when I found the technique to just make it stand on top of my head, I was very excited. So I take the picture and I post it everywhere on Instagram, on Facebook, everywhere.
Raquel: What was the hair sculpture that you tried the first time?
Laetitia: It was like a straight line, just a straight line on top of my head. Just a line, a straight line. And then it was like a peak.
And then when I posted, everyone was like, oh my God, oh, you did that? And it was people I knew, my friend, my close friend, because it was my only community, my close friend, my family. And I was like, okay, do it again. We want to see more. I was like, okay, I'm going to do more. So I tried to start with some geometrical shapes, like a circle, a square, a triangle, and try some more complex stuff. So every time I was posting something, I had more and more reaction. People were sharing, liking, commenting, and people I didn't even know now was starting to follow me because they liked what I was doing.
So every time I was posting, I tried to do something more detailed to push a little bit more, the complexity, the creativity.
Raquel: This is you teaching yourself by playing with your own hair as opposed to you sort of having some sort of mentor teaching you how to sculpt your hair. So what you're saying is that you're basically a self-taught hair artist.
Laetitia: One hundred percent.
I never learn with anyone. I just try to figure out. I'm very, as I said, very good with manual stuff. I know how to sew. I know how to braid. I know how to crochet. So when I want to do something, I'm like, okay, if I want to do that, what I have to do. And I just try to figure out. And I do some experiments. If it works, it works. If it doesn't work, it doesn’t -
Raquel: That’s even more impressive because anyone would go on your Instagram and look at your pictures or look at the reports that have been about you in the media. And you would think, oh, well, there's some like proper formal training about like how to do this kind of stuff.
But what you're saying is like, no, I'm self-taught. I taught myself how to do that. And did I read somewhere that you sort of use wires to sort of give them shape?
Laetitia: Exactly. I use wire extension and then that's it. In general, I wrap my hair around the wire, it makes the hair bendable, like I'm able to bend it in every shape, and then because I'm able to bend it in every shape, I try now to make a drawing by bending many pieces, connecting it together.
Raquel: Are you using your hair extensions, a wire, and then also a gel?
Laetitia: No, I don't use any gel, just the wire and hair extension, that's it.
Raquel: Do you mind if I ask, for example, all these powerful messages, you can make a dragon, you can make an octopus, you can make a butterfly, you make all of this feminist message and women-centred message with your hair.
How long does a hair sculpture of a pregnant female body? How long did that take you? Or the female symbol? How long did that one take you?
Laetitia: I'm able to make the female symbol in about 40 minutes. 40 minutes. I'm able to make this. But it really depends because some sculptures take 10 minutes, 20 minutes and other sculptures will take me five hours.
So it's a very big range. A very big difference. Depending on what I want to do, it will be very, very, very, very different.
Raquel: So how long do you keep it?
Laetitia: So I keep it just for the time of the photo shoot. That's it. To be honest, it's very painful. To be able to stand still on top of my head, I have to make it very tight at the base of my hair, because if it's a little loose, it just falls.
So to be able to like stand on top of my head, the base of the ponytail need to be extremely tight, and then I sculpt and it stay on top of my head. But if it's a little loose, it's just completely foul. So it's very painful. So when I do my hair, it's just like, I would take the picture. As soon as I take the picture, I just take it off.
Raquel: You know, as a campaigner or artist and a combination of maybe political art, you know, we get to interpret what you're trying to say with each image, but like, what are you trying to say with your hair using this medium. What is the message that you have for women and girls? Through your art?
Laetitia: So as I said, when I was, when I was telling the story, I didn't finish, but I was saying like when I start to create an experiment and I was getting a lot of like feedbacks, and so I was pushing more, pushing more, doing more, doing more. It was just for aesthetic at the beginning. No message, no anything. I was just doing beautiful shapes and posting it.
And then one day I do this photo series where my hair is shaped as a pair of hearts and it went completely viral. This photo series just went around the world. I maybe went from 2000 follower on Instagram in one day. In one night, I woke up with like 20,000 followers and I was like, and the media wanted interviews, and that's why everything changed because at the same time, in addition to all the media attention, I started to receive a lot of messages from women, especially from black American women, if I remember, saying that, Oh, it's the first time that I see a black woman using a black hair to create hearts. And I think it's a very powerful message because we live in an environment where our hair is considered not professional enough, not beautiful enough, all hair is not very well represented.
So seeing another black woman use something that is supposed to be ugly to create something that will be admired. That will be a work of art, it makes me feel better about my blackness. It makes me feel better about my home here and about my black identity as a whole.
And I had a lot of messages written like that from a lot of women.
And that's I think at this moment that I realized that what I was doing could serve a greater purpose than just beautiful shapes. I realized, okay, I'm able to touch all those women without even trying to touch them. So if I start to associate The message, and the things that are important to me, to this sculpture, maybe I can have an impact. Maybe I can create some change. Maybe I can touch even more people.
And it's at this moment that my hair come from just being beautiful shapes to political because of all those messages and at this moment, we talk about it at the beginning of the podcast. It was very natural for me to start thinking, speaking about the difference of treatment between men and women, because it was all around me since I was a child, all around me.
So when I started to address some important issue, directly, I've started to talk about all the harassment women are going through, all the injustice we are going through, and at this moment, there is the Me Too movement hashtag, and I also jump on it and to share some of my experience and some experience of the women I knew. And I was creating around that.
And when I started to create around that, I received even more messages from women saying, Okay, thank you for this story you are sharing. I recognize myself into it. I see myself in this. This is the first time that I opened up about the assault I have. So thank you for that.
And I realized a lot of women started to open up to me in DM about the type of hassle they were going through. And for many of them, it was the first time they were sharing this with someone. So I realized that the word I was sharing, the text, the sculpture I was doing was touching a lot of women. And I was like, okay, I can't stop now. It can create a difference. So I would continue.
So what I want to do with my hair sculpture, the message I want to convey in general, there is many aspects. There is one aspect where I want to celebrate who I am as an African woman, an Ivorian woman, because this is where everything starts. I inspire myself for my own ancestors.
It's seeing their hairstyle that encourage me and inspire me to start also create a style, even if it's very different. But the inspiration I took inspiration from them, and I see that it's make a lot of women feel good about having coily hair or being very dark skinned, it's make a lot of women feeling better about that.
And there is also the fact that I want to say to women that we live in a society where we have a lot of restriction, a lot of standards we have to follow. But when we go beyond those standards, we can completely transform our life and have the life that we really want. That's why I want to give the example, I don't follow a lot of standards and I'm able to create something for myself like a career on and a lot of beautiful things because I'm able to say like, okay, those standards doesn't suit me. So I'm going to do different things and I hope by doing this I will inspire women around me and women will see my work to do the same things, even if it's not comfortable all the time.
Raquel: It’s a powerful message. And I want to come back to this, but I just wanted to point out that you are also a painter. You also paint. And, you're using different mediums of art to convey very feminist message about the rights and experiences of women, for example, you did a very striking painting about a black woman giving birth and what she gives birth to is the world. You know, the world is coming out of her vagina.
And you accompany these paintings with messages that you share on social media, on YouTube, on Instagram, on Twitter. For example, this one, you said,
‘I call this painting matrix of the world’ And you said, ‘another painting to praise and celebrate women's bodies and their abilities. I've seen recently a couple of videos of women giving birth and I was impressed by how amazing our bodies are. Unfortunately, this can be an extremely traumatic experience when the medical staff is not professional enough and make women go through obstetric violence. Obstetric violence is a form of violence women can go through because of the medical staff during labour.’
And then you provide more context and information about obstetric violence and the process of how you created that art.
You know, so it's, it's very much like you have owned the character, the role, the responsibility of a political artist who is doing something and breaking ground where maybe not many people have gone before. At least in the terms of like the hair as protest type of art.
Do women approach you about their own experiences?
Laetitia: All the time, all the time. I mean, it's happened like almost every day. Every time I do a post, I will have a woman saying, okay, I lived something similar. So thank you for posting about that. And then they will share a story with me. It's happened a lot.
I'm very happy because I feel like they're able to share the pain. And when you share your pain with someone, it's make the burden a little bit lighter. So I'm very happy, but sometimes it's very difficult because sometime in very short amount of periods, I'm hearing a lot of different story, a lot of different traumatic story of violence and for my own mental health is not always easy to hear that much difficult story from other women.
It's very easy as a woman to project myself into the story and to be affected. But I'm very happy that they feel safe to share all those things with me. And I don't want them to stop because if they can feel better, a little bit better by sharing those, I want to be there for them.
Raquel: Absolutely, but like, how do you take care of yourself? Because we've heard about what you put out into the world. But there's also a lot that you're taking in, you know, for example, this post about sexual violence, you had women in the comments talking about their experiences giving birth that were traumatic.
And you're getting all of those messages about all of these different topics and issues that affect the lives of women and girls. How do you as a woman take care of yourself while doing work that seems to be challenging?
Laetitia: I don't know exactly how to answer that because I don't have a special technique to take care of myself.
And if I want to be honest, sometimes I have periods where I'm very down and where I need to kind of detach myself a little bit from social media, to rest myself mentally. I am very lucky because I have a family I'm very close to, especially my little sister. She's like the person I'm the closest to, I can tell her everything. So she's a little bit my support system. So when I'm very down, she's someone I can talk to, share things with her and we just going to go out, drink something, a coffee, have a couple of laughs and I will feel a little bit better. So, yeah, it's very hard and I do what I can. I'm very lucky because I'm mentally able to take a lot, a lot.
So yeah, I feel like it's kind of the whole package. I chose to do that. It's way easier now than it was before. I feel like I'm growing and I'm still trying to accommodate myself to all this. So, yeah, it's very hard. Sometimes I just try to disconnect myself a little bit and take a couple of days to do the things I love to feel better. And then I come back and then yeah.
Raquel: It's an honest answer. And I'm so glad that you've given us an honest answer. You know what? I don't have it together every day. You know, sometimes I struggle. You know why I say that? Because in feminist work. you know, when we're campaigners or writers or all that kind of stuff, you see all the other women, your colleagues, you see all the other women around you as, oh, well, but they have it together. You know, they're out there changing the world and doing this really powerful work.
So when we struggle and everybody struggles, so when we struggle, we sometimes could feel like we're at fault. You know, like we are sort of like, Oh, well, but everyone seems to be like, so like if I, for example, were to look at your Instagram and the work that you publish, I would say like that woman is amazing. She is Wonder Woman. And actually, she's a woman just like me. And just like every other woman, you know, and there's power in that vulnerability. And I think that I asked you the question because it's always interesting to hear how these remarkable women look after themselves.
But, but also like there's no real like recipe like a detailed point plan of like, Oh, well, I'm feeling down, you know, I go for a walk and meditate and then I sort of take a long bath. Again, sometimes that doesn't work, sometimes that's not enough. Sometimes you don't even know how to look after yourself.
And I think that that honesty and vulnerability is very much needed in this movement.
Laetitia: Yeah, 100%. I agree with this 100%.
And I'm more and more comfortable with being vulnerable because it's something I struggle with a lot. I don't love when people see that vulnerable aspect of me because since I'm a child, even before having a platform on social media, I'm someone people will consider pretty strong. mentally, physically, in every aspect, I have a very strong character and I don't like, you know, to be weak. When people see that the weak aspect of me, I was very embarrassed about that. So if I would cry, I would cry alone in my bed, but we not in front of every people. But more and more, I start to be very comfortable crying in public. Telling that I'm feel bad and I feel that when I do this, I have a very stronger support that when I had everything for myself and I feel like everyone we should not be afraid, as you say, to be vulnerable because it's powerful. It also brings to us a lot more support than we would have if we were hiding all those feelings.
Raquel: It’s also massively relatable, Laetitia, you know? And I'm sure that there's women in the FiLiA audience and people who are listening to us who are going to identify with that, relate to that. So thank you so much for speaking with us about it.
Okay. So can I just ask one final question, because there's some other stuff I want to cover, but can I just ask one final question about your hair because you're doing all of this manual labour with your hair. You're building sculptures and some of them are very broad and big and heavy. So how do you protect your hair, which is obviously an extension of you? How do you preserve it?
Laetitia: I do it, I think it's just luck and genetics. I have very strong hair and that's it. I don't do a lot of things. I'm lucky because I'm very lazy when it comes to do too many different things to, you know, very long routine to take care of all my hair. So I don't do a lot of different things. I will have those protective aside. That is the long braid I always wear, and then every month, when I say this a lot of people are triggered, but I wash my hair once a month, I wash my hair once a month and that's it. I don't put any other product. I don't do any other things. Once in a while when I will take out a very tight hair sculpture, I will do a scalp massage to make it feel better.
That's it. I'm very lucky that my hair doesn't fall out.
Raquel: But it makes sense. It makes sense for you to do it once a month because you need certain oils and you need it to sort of heal itself. You know, if you're washing it every day or every couple of days, then you're going to lose a lot of what it needs to stay together, especially if you don't use gel.
Okay. So I wanted to ask you, what has the reception to your work been like in your local Ivory Coast?
Laetitia: There is a little bit of everything. And it also depends on the period, because when I was starting, the reception of my work was very different of now. So, at the beginning a lot of people that were close to me, they were, of course encouraging me to continue. They liked it, but when I start to touch on other people, strangers and people like this, like it was more like, what is she doing? She has a lot of time on her hands. There wasn't understanding. Some people was thinking that it was a Photoshop, every type of reaction, but more and more, I have a lot more support about, because, and this is one of the aspects that I don't like about the art culture here is that in general, if you are an Ivorian artist, people will just don't care about you until the Western world put their attention on you. And when they see that, oh, there is international magazine that are talking about her, maybe we should start to take us seriously and then they start to take you seriously.
So I start to have more attention from the Western world before my own country.
Raquel: That's kind of. common, you know, I don't know if this is popular in other countries, but like in the Dominican Republic, we would say no one is a prophet in their own land like you get respect, you get acknowledgement, you get recognition abroad, and then locally there could be a lot of different factors going on.
There could be jealousy, envy, resentment. Why her? Why is she getting all of this recognition? Why is she standing out? Why is she doing something that any of us could have done? I'm just sort of like thinking aloud, but it wouldn't be abnormal. There are many artists and characters in history where the reception was different, which is why I asked the question so, okay.
So at the beginning, it was a bit, let's call it critical or hostile.
Laetitia: Yeah and then after I started to have a lot of like support, but like when it comes to the message I tried to convey, then it's a very different story because Ivory Coast, even if compared to other West African countries like, we are way more advanced on those questions. We're still very traditional in the way we see women roles and men roles. So when I will speak about certain topic and about, they will be very shocked. When I will speak, for example, about reproductive rights, speak about abortion, there is a lot of religious people here, it will be a shame, so I will receive a lot of violence.
When I will post some of my paintings, people will say that I don't have any type of, I don't know how to say that in English, they will say I'm vulgar, for example, they will just miss the whole message. They will just be bothered by the fact that there is nudity in the painting because, yeah, they’re kind of conservative when it comes to certain topics.
Raquel: Do you mean locally?
Laetitia: Yeah, locally, locally, 100%.
Raquel: That would make sense because if you're out there kicking back against a culture of repression, which is completely tied to colonialism, you know, like if you're kicking back against a culture of hatred of women's bodies including your hair in the culture, then the kickback, the pushback against the rebellious one, it seems kind of logical.
Laetitia: Yes, 100%. So yeah, when it comes to the artistry of my work, I would say people kind of like what I do, but when it comes to the message, uh, yeah, there was a lot of backlash from the people that follow me here. But I'm very happy because when it comes to the women here, there is a lot of support.
It's like a 50 50. Some are completely against and some are like, Oh, thank you, you give me courage.
Raquel: The women are supportive. You mentioned something you said, I think the sentence was, you're going to see it in the transcript. I think the sentence was like, ‘there's some pushback from people but then the women are supportive’
So are you saying that the men are really angry about your work because women are like, thank God?
Laetitia: 100% they are the more violent. But also the women, that's why I say it's a 50 50 when it comes to the women, but maybe when it comes to men it's the 80/20. 80 20 support but when it's women it's 50 50.
Raquel: That's really interesting.
On an international level, can you tell us a little bit about sort of like, it kind of sounds a little bit like you had a breakthrough, like you just broke through when I've seen articles about you in Elle magazine, which is really interesting because those magazines would be the ones promoting the idea of like straight hair as the beauty standard, but like, that's just a part of the conversation. I've also seen you covered in like the Guardian. So, on an international level, what has been the reception to your work?
Laetitia: When it comes to an artistic point of view and even for the message, it has been way more positive than here. Like my audience, my principal audience is the US and France. I'll have to explain that. It's been very positive. I grew up internationally, and it's always a lot of love and a lot of support for most thing I would have to say. But there is also the part of backlash internationally, and it's when it comes to the question of sex and genders. And when it comes to the question of sex and genders, because my feminism is about equality of sexes.
Every day I say that it's not about gender equality. I know what is the definition of gender, but it's not clear enough for me to base my fight on that. But I know what a sex is, and I advocate for equality of sexes. And for some reason some people see this as hate in the Western world.
And just last month, I went through a lot of bullying because of that. So yeah, I would say it's also every place international or locally has its backlash for a different reason. And its part of positivity too.
Raquel: I was just about to ask you about that. You have recently become vocal about sex-based rights.
Could you tell us a little bit about what motivated you? What inspired you to speak out?
Laetitia: Okay, so I want to say that since the beginning of me starting to speak about all those women's issues, I've never been confused about what a woman is, and I've never been confused about who I was talking for. To me, a woman is an adult human female.
And I think for most people, it's the case. Maybe they're not going to say this because they don't want the backlash, but for most people, it's the case. And for the logic and the science, it's also the right definition and when I start to talk about all those issues, I had a lot of support.
And then one day I make one post, I think it was when in the US, abortion wasn't a constitutional right anymore, something like in this period. And because I have a lot of women from the US supporting my work, I felt the need to like bring them my support concerning this change and about them losing the right to have abortion and so I made a post to like saying as women, we not only have to work to have some rights, but we have to continue to work to maintain those rights. So we have to stay vigilant and I shared a lot uplifting word with them and then I saw the comments were very funny to me because for the first time I was seeing people saying that, oh, but abortion is not a women's right. It's a person’s right. Men can have abortions; non-binary people can have abortions.
And I was like, what is happening? And you know, some people were completely mad in the comments saying that why do I use the term women to talk about abortion. And I was very shocked. Like for the first time I was seeing that. Using women to speak about problems that affect our body was a bad thing for some people, but you know, I was just like, I'm not going to just focus on those people. I just don't care. I just responded to a couple of them and I received a couple of very violent messages saying, uh, you're very transphobic. How can you say abortion is a women's right? It's completely disgusting, I was supporting you all those years. And now I see this post.
And in this post, I wasn't even mentioning trans person. I was just saying, I'm with you, American women. I'm sorry, you lose this important right and people were seeing this as hate. I was very shocked, but I didn't react. I just blocked them.
And then I started to see the headline of some women being cancelled because they say a woman is an adult human female because they say ‘women have periods’ you get cancelled because you say, ‘Women give birth’ you get cancelled.
I saw the example of J. K. Rowling, I saw the example of Chimamanda, I saw the example of one model, I forgot her name, but she was a very famous model, and then she said, ‘trans women are trans women’. ‘Women are women’, she's been cancelled, they just completely shut down her work career. And I start to realise that, oh my god, it's a very important issue, and I wasn't even aware of that.
Because here in Ivory Coast, this is not even a discussion, everyone knows what a woman is, what a man is. And I start to realise that it was something completely different in the Western world. And when I saw that the treatment women have for saying just normal evident things, I start to be very scared, but I just passed, and then every time I would be frequently speaking about a lot of women struggle, but when I will speak about a struggle that is linked to our body, to our biology, there would be a fight in the comments saying: Why do you say women have periods? Why do you say this? Or how can you use women to talk about this? it was always very frustrating for me because people were trying to force me to use this new language and this wasn't sitting very right with me, and they were trying to imply that if I don't use this language, if I don't align with those view, I was a bad person.
No discussion was allowed. No conversation was allowed, I had to agree or be a bad person, just two options, you agree with everything or you're a bad person. And I'm not the type of person you can convince with this type of technique. So, but at the same time I was very afraid because I was starting to make a living with my work. So I wasn't very vocal about all this. It was very frustrating, but I wasn't talking.
I continued to make my posts without speaking clearly about the issue. We were saying that I'm tired to have all those backlash because I use the word ‘women’ to talk about period because I use the word ‘women’ to talk about reproductive rights.
I didn't have the courage because I had a lot of examples of women being completely destroyed.
Raquel: I just wanted to point out at that moment, you're saying I wasn't going to let anyone bully me, but I was scared because I was beginning to make a living out of my art. I just wanted to point out, you know, at that moment, you could have very easily sold out, very easily. And all those people who were piling on you, what they wanted was for you to humiliate yourself and say, Oh, I'm very sorry that I connected women. I am so sorry that I connected obstetric violence with women, that's what they wanted. That is the moment that you're describing is the moment in which they wanted you to recant.
So tell us about the moment in which you decided, no, not only am I not going to humiliate myself, apologize and recant, but I'm going to be explicit that I am talking about sex based rights.
Laetitia: So I continue to make a lot of posts. And every time, as I said, there is a lot of people coming into my DM saying ‘transphobic piece of shit’ and insulting me.
And then I start to see also a ton of some women like defending me in those comments saying, leave her alone. She's right. Oppression of women is sex-based, completely liberal. And when I will click on those women profiles, I will see, for example, in the bio, radical feminist. I discover the term radical feminist for the first time and I start to make some research about it, about the views, because I was thinking that they were the only type of feminist that was supporting me and supporting logical thinking or having conversation.
So when I start to discover this community, I start to follow a lot of radical feminists on Twitter and including J.K. Rowling. And it's been like this for, it went for maybe one or one year and a half. I was sometime liking a tweet, but I don't have a lot of followers on Twitter. So I guess some people didn't know exactly on Instagram that I was following J.K. Rowling on Twitter. So it wasn't a problem. And then it was J.K. Rowling's birthday. So I make a post on Twitter to wish her happy birthday and to say how much I love her and how much I admire her for everything she does for women and for being one of the most amazing authors on the planet.
I do this post and I say she's very inspiring and stuff like this and I go to sleep.
Raquel: You make the post with or without the J.K. Rowling hair structure?
Laetitia: No, no, no, without. It was just a re-tweet of one of her posts saying it was her birthday and I retweeted it with happy birthday J.K. Rowling, you inspire me so much, I love you, blah, blah, blah, that's it.
Raquel: You were fan-girling.
Laetitia: I go to sleep because I don't have a lot of followers on Twitter, so not a lot of reaction before sleeping and I woke up the next day, I opened my TikTok because I was very active on TikTok. I opened my TikTok and I discover a lot of people tag me everywhere and I don't understand what is happening. And then I discover a dozen videos saying I'm a transphobic person and people need to cancel me and all those video were viral, like 1 million, like 100,000 likes and not just one or two video. No, no, no. Like maybe more than 10, 10 videos. People are tagging me everywhere. And then people are starting to spam my comments section with ‘transphobic piece of shit’.
‘We hate you’. So I discovered that one person maybe saw the J.K. Rowling post on Twitter, they made the screenshots of it and then they post it on TikTok, because I had a lot of followers on TikTok. I have 6 million. So I was very like, I don't post anymore, but I still have those 6 million. So I was very famous on TikTok.
Raquel: You have 6 million followers on TikTok, as in like teenage girls and stuff? Wow!
Laetitia: I was posting my hair, you know, making some hair sculpture, the process and doing some training. It was always a video, but I deleted everything now. So I see all of those people commenting on my video saying I'm transphobic, insulting me, making videos saying I'm a piece of shit.
And then I block my comments and I'm just like, okay, I have to do something. So I have two options. Either you do the apology video or you completely double down. And say, I'm worried about this and at this special moments, I was still scared about losing partnership with brand about losing my income.
But somehow making this apology video was the worst option for me than losing everything. I don't know what's happening, but it was like a worst option for me because I wasn't doing anything wrong. wishing J.K. Rowling happy birthday. And I don't know why I have to like apologize for that, for loving her.
So I call my sister and I'm completely crying and I'm saying, okay, do you see what is happening right now? I send her all the video. I say, go see the comments under my posts. And also people went to my Twitter to start bullying me to repost all my tweets saying, you know, wishing me the worst thing. People were saying they wish to see me dead. They wish I will have an ovarian cancer. They wish someone would rape me. And it wasn't like 10 comments. No, it was like more than thousands of reports of retweeting of comments of people sending me a lot of violence for wishing happy birthday to J.K. Rowling.
And I was like, there is no way that I will just fold and apologize to those type of people. I would rather die. So I called my sister. I told her, I know every day you tell me to be very careful about this topic, but see what is happening right now. I think I'm done. And she said I completely understand every day I tell you to be very careful, but I understand you.
If you think you're done, I understand you. So do what you have to do. So I just write the whole post where I say I'm done. And now I will be very vocal about the fact that my feminism is about equality of sexes, not gender.
So I did this post on Facebook. It was a very complicated period because I posted everywhere, Facebook, Instagram, and it was a very difficult thing to do because the violence went just escalated.
You know, now it wasn't just TikTok making video, it was now on Instagram, on YouTube, everywhere there were videos about Laetitia Ky is transphobic. So, but there was also a huge amount of support of women saying, okay, I wish I could have the strength, you have to say the same thing. We are terrified here for just saying women have periods.
If we say we don't want to call ourselves uterus havers, and just we want to be called women, we are bad person. And thank you for doing God's work with the platform you have and saying honestly what we want to do. So I saw all those women saying, we're behind you, we're behind you. And so, oh, it gave me the strength to say, okay, I don't know what will be the consequence. I will maybe lose things. Maybe I'm okay with that.
Raquel: Did it felt like freedom? Did it felt like liberation?
Laetitia: It was very hard to deal with all this violence was because I received a lot of violence DM saying the worst thing you can imagine the most real things you can imagine, but at the same time, I would have for nothing, I wouldn’t have wished to change things.
I'm very happy. And, you know, I was even like, maybe I should have done this sooner because like I felt free and I still feel free that today I can walk. I can ‘like’ a post without someone bullying me because one day, for example, a couple of years before I would ‘like’ a post saying women should have their own sport category and someone will do a screenshot and come to my inbox and say, I saw you ‘liked’ this post. It's a very transphobic post. I will send it to all your partners so you will be cancelled. And then I will come back to the post and delete my ‘like’ and block that person. Even your ‘like’ people just watch what you like, what you comment, and they just try to bully you with that and to kind of police you. You don't have the right to follow this person, you don't have the right to like this content. You don't have the right to do this. If you do this, if you don't stay in line, we destroy you. But now it's over. I can ‘like’ any content I want: I can comment on everything I want because I'm very vocal about it anyway.
What are you going to tell me?
Raquel: Has there been the big scary monster, what you've just described, the fear of if I speak out openly about sex-based rights, the world is going to crumble. Women are told you're going to lose your job. You're going to lose your academic careers. You're going to lose sponsorships.
All of these horrible things are going to happen. You're going to lose your friendship circle, peer pressure, all this kind of stuff. We are told that there will be a big scary monster that awaits us if we speak out. Did that big, scary, patriarchal monster materialize in your life? Or did you find, as many, many women are finding that on the other side of that fear, there's actually positivity?
Laetitia: It's a little bit of hope. I'll be very honest about it because yes, I've lost some friends. I'm very lucky because most of my friends would agree with me. We're Ivorian and here it's not a debate. Even us that are very, you know, we are allies of people with a different sexuality. My little sister is lesbian and for no reason I will allow anyone to say bad thing about her because of this reason we’re literally going to fight.
So even people we are just very friendly and allies of gay people when it comes to this question about what a woman is we all know what it is in Ivory Coast at least so I don't lose that much of friendship, but there was some friend that I had maybe that lived abroad that will make stories on Instagram saying, okay, I want to announce that I'm not friends with Laetitia Ky anymore because I discovered she's very transphobic, stuff like this.
But I don't mind, you know, I have enough friends. So if a couple of want to go, that's their problem.
Raquel: As in private friends you know, who are just saying like, I want to come out and say that we used to be friends and now we're not friends anymore.
Raquel: That's so weird. That's so weird.
Laetitia: Extremely weird.
Raquel: You know what? That's chasing clouds.
Laetitia: Like that's exactly what it is.
Raquel: It’s like is she a big deal? Has she become famous? Has she had more influence? Oh, let me tell you about how we used to be friends, and now we're not. So it's chasing clouds and it's sad and I'm sorry that that happened.
Sorry, that was like a little bit unprofessional of me, but like it’s so weird.
Laetitia: I agree with you 100%. One, two people are saying, yeah, I was following her, bleeding this, I was liking her. Many people like this. In general, a friend that was maybe living in France or in other countries, so they think differently and when it comes to my job, I think I was very lucky.
I think maybe, I don't know, I'm not going to say God, but maybe the universe was like protecting me because my source of income was primarily my job with brands. And every month I would have a deal with a brand before talking about this issue. Every month, like at least one deal every month, it was starting to be very big.
And since I talk about it, I didn't add just even one deal with a brand. Maybe it's other reasons. Maybe it's not that. I don't know. Maybe it's just me and my head that's just associating things, but I just feel like it's very weird that it's just at this moment that it stops. But I'm very lucky, as I said, because at the same moment, I start to work with an amazing gallery, an Italian gallery that is very supportive of my voice and my work. And I start to sell my heart, so I don't need those brand deals anymore to be able to live. So, it was a very, like, a good moment where I was like, okay, I don't have brand deals anymore, but I have something else.
Raquel: That's really positive, you know, because what I was sort of describing is like, you think, oh, they could take my brand deals.
But something else opened up something that maybe an Italian gallery. Could you have imagined that that possibility was even there before you spoke out, you know, like different opportunities come, but they come after you jump, not before.
Laetitia: So, and I also have that amount of support of women that wasn't that strong before, like now when I have a show somewhere and I have exhibition somewhere, the amount of women that would just come there to tell me, thank you for speaking up on this topic. We're here and we always support you because you give us strength, it's insane, it's completely insane. So maybe there is some opportunity that will just disappear because of it. But just as you say, a lot of other opportunities I wasn't thinking about, will also appear.
So, yeah, but at the same time, I don't want to sit because I was very lucky to have a platform to be able to touch people that would bring me some opportunity. But if a woman is there and she only has one job, and some, how to say that, she has one job, she has some children, and she only rely on that job, maybe it's better to have something very secure to be independent financially before speaking openly about those things, because I know some women that have been completely destroyed because they speak spoke about those things. So the two thing exists. There was a lot of support 100%, but there was also the backlash.
We didn't reach the point where the backlash is minimal. There are still women losing their job. There is still women violently bullied. And if you don't have a lot of support system, you can completely go into a very, I don’t want to say big depression, but what I went into, maybe it wasn't a big depression, but it was a moment of my life where it was a dark place because receiving, I'll just say that, constantly, every day, receiving dozens and dozens and dozens of people wishing to see you dead. It's big on the mental health, to be honest.
So I don't want to say to women to don't be afraid to talk because if from one day to another, all of us talk at the same time, they can do anything. But at the same time, if we don't do that, some women will lose a lot.
So I would say yes, let's speak up, but let's be also very careful on the way, maybe the word we use to speak up, and the way we speak about this issue because, yeah, they will always, how to say that? interpret our words differently and give us intentions we didn't even think about. So to protect ourselves, let's make our view very clear and showing that what we want is conversation, is justice, and we don't have any type of hate for any group of people.
Most radical feminists I know doesn't have any type of hate for the trans community. They just have some boundaries to be respected and they just want logic to be applied in everyday life.
Raquel: Laetitia, I want to speak with you a little bit about your book. You publish a book called Love and Justice, A Journey of Empowerment, Activism and Embracing Black Beauty.
Can you tell us a little bit about the process of how you got your book published?
Laetitia: So actually, I woke up one day to mail from someone saying that he was a book manager and that he saw my work and he think we can do a very beautiful book material with what I have to say and what I have to create.
So to me, I mean, it was a very beautiful opportunity because I was only present on social media on digital platform and not enough on the real physical world. There are many different ways to be present on the real physical world. I wanted to be in galleries, but a book was also way to be present in physical world and to touch another, maybe some people that are not too much connected on social media all the time and other parts of the population. So when he came to me and asked me if I was okay to do a book, I was like, Yes, of course. Of course, 100%. You know, this book is like the continuity of what I'm doing on social media, but in the book is it's a lot of stories, personal stories or stories of women around me. And it's a lot of images, heart images, beautiful sculptures that I've created, especially for the book.
There is also some sculptures I published before. But most of the pictures you will find in this book are new and never been posted. So when it came to me, I said, okay, that's an amazing idea. I'm okay for this.
So we did kind of a draft to explain a little bit, okay, this is the book we want to create, the book will talk about this and this and this, and the book would have some art work. And when we did that, it was around 3000 words. We just started to like approach some publishers and there was a lot of publishers who came back and say they were interested.
So I had a lot of, how to say that, zoom appointments with some publishers, and I was like so, I was so stressed I remember because I'm not very confident in my English. I've never been able to live in a country where people speak English. It's just by learning through TV shows that I'm able to speak. So I always, you know, kind of feel like when I always speak to someone, especially if it's professional, I don't know if they will be able to understand everything I have to say, or if I will catch every word they say. So I was very stressed. You know, I was like practicing in front of my mirror, what I will say so they can choose to publish my work. And, but I realized that when I had the rapport with them, they were the ones trying to convince me to choose them.
So it was very weird. All the things I practiced in front of the mirror to convince them. I didn't even have to say that. So I had a five different appointments with five amazing publishing houses. And then at the end, I chose one, Princeton Architectural Press, and it was a very beautiful process.
I created all the pictures with my little sister. I mean, I do the hairstyle and then when it comes to take the picture, most of the picture, I will take it myself most of the time because I have a camera. I have a tripod and I also have kind of a, I don't know, in French we say telecommands. I don't remember the word in English, but it's something you will push a button to be able to take the picture at distance.
But when I need help, my little sister will help me. So we did all the picture for six, seven months, and at the beginning. We wanted some text, but not too much, but then realized I had too much to say, so they let me do more text, speak about more stories. So at the beginning, if I remember, it was 20, 000 words, but we end up with like around 40,000 words, like the double of what we wanted at the beginning.
Raquel: Can you remind me what year was it that you started doing your work, your sculpture work?
Laetitia: My sculpture work, so the experiment at the beginning, I think was 2017.
Raquel: So the point that I'm trying to make is like, I think it's amazing that you have this five publishers chasing you and then you got to choose between five different publishing houses who wanted to publish your book about the work that you do with your hair.
If you had gone back early 2017 maybe 2016, and you had told that woman, you know what, there's going to be a point in the future when publishing houses are going to be vying for your attention because they want to publish your work.
You know, she wouldn't believe that. She would not believe that that is even a possibility, but there's such a powerful message there because it's about sort of reclaiming something that was taught, socialised to girls and women. You need to hate your hair. You have to hate who you are.
Everything about your hair has to be coded in pain and oppression, and you have turned it into such a character development story. You know, that I just think those parallels between the woman in 2017, making this sort of decision, I will make work, political, artistic work through reclaiming the meaning of hair.
And then the woman a few years later, who is like, not only is that important, but it's important enough that we need to spread the word so that people buy your book, people go to a library and buy your book, and read more about how they can continue to spread that awareness, and I just think it's remarkable.
Laetitia: Thank you so much.
Raquel: I think you have so much to be very proud of.
Okay, so I wanted to ask you, I read, I think it was an interview that you did, and you were talking about the differences that you noticed between what you describe as Western feminism and African feminism, and I was just wondering if you could explore that, what would you consider to be Western feminism?
What would you consider to be African feminism? And how do they differ?
Laetitia: Okay, so I think the main difference between what I would call Western feminism and African feminism is, you know, those basic things where today the mainstream, because I know all feminism in the Western world doesn't agree with this type of feminism.
So the mainstream feminism in the Western world that is a very liberal feminist, that is called liberal feminist, can't even define what a woman is, doesn't even know what they are fighting for. They are supporting many different things that here we would not support. For example, when we talk about topic like sex work, where I have a more nuanced point of view about that.
But in the feminist, liberal feminist area, if you have a critical point of view about sex work, for example, for everything, you would be a bigot if you don't agree with everything. So I will think that our feminism is less liberal than the mainstream feminism in the West. I'm not going to say that every Feminists in Africa is like a radical feminist, but it's definitely the type of feminism that look more like the type of feminism we have.
Raquel: You know, Laetitia, some people might argue that you have become a figurehead for African feminism. You know and that in itself is a big achievement, considering how young you are. But it talks to the testament of the power of the work that you're creating. So I think that it's interesting how we, women like you, women like me, we sort of look up to these women who sort of construct feminism. And we find ourselves as we are constructing feminism too.
And, that can feel very frightening, but also it can feel empowering in a way because I mean, I'm thinking of the way that buying your book, watching your Instagram, I mean, the fact that there's like millions of people following you, especially, like, the audience of TikTok, is young girls. The fact that all of these young girls are looking at the work that you're producing on TikTok, Like, they're getting a message about feminism. They're getting to learn about obstetric violence. They are learning about administration. They are learning about menopause you know? Women's work, women's labour, women's education rights, all of those sort of issues through conduits like Laetitia Ky. So that's remarkable.
Okay, so I am so sorry that I've kept you for such a long time. This has been such an invigorating conversation. And I'm so grateful for all your time. I just wanted to give you an opportunity to speak to our FiLiA audience who is listening to you right now.
Is there anything that you would like to say?
Your work is visual, we see the great culture that you produce with your hair, and your paintings, your visual kind of medium, but now that we're in an audio format and people can listen to your voice, you know, is there a message that you would like to convey to our FiLiA audience about your work?
Laetitia: I'm not very good for this. I don't know what to say. I feel like there is so many different things I could say. So I don't know exactly what to choose. I would say in in general, I'll just say, how to pronounce that in English, I'm trying to find a word.
It's sometimes we're very afraid about, especially as women, and in those time where we're talking about the very sensitive topic of, yeah, what a woman is, blah, blah, blah, and stuff like this. And sometimes we're very afraid, but just like you said before, if you have the courage to be completely true to yourself and to say what you have to say, maybe, of course, you're going to lose certain things, but you're going to also bring new opportunity to you that you will never have thought of. So do not be afraid. It's very liberating to have the courage to be yourself. So find the courage to be yourself. It's going to be very helpful.
Raquel: That's wonderful. That's really moving. And just when you were speaking, I know that I said that that was the last question, but like, just when I was listening to you, I thought about, there are women out there who are like me when I was growing up, you know, a woman, just a girl, a girl with very curly hair. When I was in school, they used to call me Goldilocks because it was like light hair, and then I started to sort of reject my hair. I wanted it to be relaxed. And there are women like me, there are women like you, who grew up with a culture that teaches us to hate our hair. So if you could speak with women who are in that process of struggling to accept their hair, as you and I have struggled in the past with it, what would you say? It could be a girl, it could be a woman, it could be an elderly woman, but what message would you say to the women who are still working through processing through all of these messages of rejection and hatred that we have sometimes internalised?
Laetitia: That's the tricky things when it comes to in general self-confidence is that there is not a special words or codes that will make someone go from not confident at all to super confident.
I feel like it's a journey that will be different for everyone. Some people will have like a breakthrough and an event that will completely change everything for them. Some people will have slower wake up. So it's very different and there are no things I think I can say that will completely change everything.
But I would say that in general, don't put too much pressure on yourself. But because sometimes there are two things. We internalize first those, those messages of self-hate and we hate ourselves. And then we see those confident women, but we're not able to be as confident and we hate ourselves even more because we don't have the strength to be as confident as themselves and we feel the pressure to just be confident now so just be gentle with yourself.
I would say one of the things I say I do the most is in general, I try to surround myself with the people that uplift who I am, in real life and even on social media, for example, if I'm following an account that post things that doesn't make me feel good with myself, I will stop following them and post other things that will encourage me to be my true self.
So yeah, I would say try to surround yourself with people that would help you gradually to grow and to feel better about yourself. There is no magic trick to be confident. Surround yourself with good persons and try to do things slowly. If you don't, you're not comfortable with, for example, your hair when it's in natural form, maybe try to do things slowly.
Maybe the first time, I say it's just an example, it doesn't have to be exactly that. But yeah, maybe if you love your hair perfectly straight, the first time you will do another hairstyle with a little bit more curl and then a little bit more curl again and another time more curl until you're comfortable with like having the type of curl that you have. It's an example, you can apply that to absolutely everything.
But I think the most important thing is to be able to filter our surrounding and to be able to surround ourselves with the people who uplift me. Because if we feel bad because we have internalized those self-hate message, it's because we surround ourselves with the self-hate message.
And sometimes we don't have the choice because those are everywhere. But if we're able to choose a little bit better what we can control, we can balance, you know, the type of message we receive and the positive can like dominate the negative and make us feel good. That's a very
Raquel: That’s a very important point, regulate the messages that we are exposed to, you know, it is true. Sometimes we don't have that much power, but there are little things that we can do to just like not continue to go down a path of like self-hatred or damaging our confidence.
Laetitia, wow! Thank you so, so much. Laetitia Ky who is a political artist and hair sculpture from the Ivory Coast in West Africa. I'm just in awe of the power of the work that you're doing, but also of how grateful we should be as a movement to have young voices of women like yours who are coming up and really doing something transformative that affects so many girls and women around the world.
Laetitia: Thank you so much.
Raquel: Thank you so much for coming and maybe if you think about it, some people could think, well, hair is trivial, and what you're showing. There's nothing trivial about the misogyny that underlies a culture of hatred around women's bodies, including our hair. It's just remarkable. Thank you so, so much for speaking with us and for giving us so much of your time. It's a great podcast, thank you so much for being with us.
Laetitia: Thank you. I was very happy to be here and to have this conversation. Thank you for having me.