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Hair Sculptor And Visual Artist Joanne Petit-Frere On Her Artistry And Basquiat

Astonishing, vertigo-inducing, mouth-dropping would be some of the words to describe the work of hair sculptor and visual artist Joanne Petit-Frere. Born in Brooklyn to Haitian parents, Petit-Frere is doing to hair, what the famed graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat did with paint and crayons.

Her hair creations are clearly influenced by East and West Africa, and 18th Century Europe. But they are also bring to mind street art, with just a hint of Bohemian.

One of Petit-Frere’s most creative collaborations is with the afro-funk-R&B group Les Nubians. Petit-Frere concocted a design for the members—Helene and Celia Faussart—that’s very avant-garde, but at the same time does not totally deviate from their Afrocentric style.

You coined a word Comotroovaysa for your creations.  COMOTROOVAYSA was a jewelry project with dear friends of mine—the artists Eric N. Mack and Tomashi Jackson along with Nia K. Evans, who co-founded the project with me.

How did you get started in jewelry sculpting?  Experimentation really. It all started with a conversation I had with Nia. I had some material and we decided to go for it. We wanted to explore options in ornamenting with different material.

What was it like growing up with Haitian parents? Constricting and liberating. Beautiful. As I grow older, I understand both our similar and different mentalities and the gifts in and between those spaces.

In one past interview, you said that your parents don’t necessarily approve of your career choice? This is true.

As grown-ups, people learn that it’s okay to be different. To be unique. Growing up, did you want to be like the other kids? I did. Naturally, I wanted to emulate those I admired. There were a few.

When was the last time you visited Haiti? Sadly, when I was two.

Where do you get most of your inspiration from?  Nature.

What would you say to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?  Work hard and follow your heart. There always room for a change.

One of the things you do through your work is to challenge what is attractive, what is beautiful. Did you feel beautiful growing up? I was—am—awkward but yes.

I was surprised and definitely excited to see that Les Nubians were among those who you’ve worked with.  Through collaborator, Delphine Diallo. The ladies are amazing to work with. It’s always a beautiful and fruitful experience.

I noticed that a lot of projects have French names. Has Haitian culture had a bearing on your style, you think?  Absolutely. Haiti was colonized by the French and I have a French last name – I’m interested in the space before-hand. The work also serves as a pilgrimage of my own history.

What can you tell us about Tressé Agoche your design project? It’s an exploration and experiment with ornamentation of hair – in particular to braiding. I use the braid alternatively to honor history while using it to push boundaries of possibilities in value.

When I first found out about you, I couldn’t help but think of some of the Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings for some reason. Were you influenced by him? Not consciously but I do feel a connection. We both having Haitian roots, are Capricorns and avid learners – his spirit lives on. I hope that I may also participate in his vision.

Be sure to check out Joanne Petit-Frere’s blog for news and updates about her work. And be sure to get a personal look of her creative journey at Chronicles of Jo by CLICKING HERE.


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