Her work speaks for itself and yet Joanne Piéf doesn’t know what to call herself, she waivers between Hair sculptress, Braidologist, and Hair designer. To any eye, the work of Joanne Piéf is art. What started off as a childhood passion, mixed in with historical references and a struggle to express her own true identity, resulted in the creation of a series of sculptures titled Redressing the Crown.
The Brooklyn born artist started braiding hair for family members at the age of 11. On completion of her education at New York’s Fashion Institute, Piéf went on to work at Ralph Lauren, where she says the braids she wore were always a source of fascination. The artist, like many other women went through her own hair struggles.
“We speak through our hair, consciously or unconsciously,” she explains. Piéf recalls removing her braids and opting for a chemically treated relaxed look before going on a job interview. ” I just wanted to look more acceptable,” she says ” I didn’t get the job, but I don’t regret what I did.” At this juncture, the artist faced a question that many women face “Am I good/beautiful enough with a certain hair texture?”
Through years of research, Piéf has uncovered a deeper discourse of hair and braids. Although braids are usually associated with women of African descent, the artist’s exploration has taken her on adventures through multiple cultures. Today, Piéf uses her work as a way to connect a world that she feels has become disconnected. “The moment we leave the house in the morning, we are plugged in.”
“We seem to forget that beyond our individuality we are a community,” she says. Hair is perhaps Piéf’s mode of connection which exists in contradiction to the way she works. She spends a lot of time braiding in isolation. Historically braiding was an activity undertaken in private. The artist shares her own private moments as she recounts braiding her Grandmothers hair before she died. “It was strange, because even though she was dying, my family still wanted her to look beautiful.” Strand by strand Pief weaves in her different philosophies, beliefs and ideologies creating sculptures that she hopes will help shift people’s perceptions of how the crown should be dressed.