Joanne Petit-Frere

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Often the conflict of being caught between cultures, like Joanne endured while growing up in Flatbush with Haitian roots, produces originality and thus, the most interesting and dynamic type of person. Forced to wear braids, hair ribbons, and lots of frills amongst a sea of sweatpants and t-shirts in grade school, Joanne was quick to become unhinged from all norms and find her own. Today, she is a regal beauty, with hair that embodies her range of self-expression and that left an indelible mark in my brain when I first saw her. By half-shaving it into a circle (channeling both Native American and punk) and taking the Geisha art of hair-rolling to another level, Joanne transforms what can be common into art. In fact, like a true artist, Joanne has the ability to elevate almost anything she comes across to a place of eminance. While she embraces her ethnicity with piles of gold bangles and intricately designed face paint, she prides herself on transcending Joyce Leslie into a couture feel. And few could wear a navy nylon poncho (the same one I used at sleep away camp for hiking) and turn heads like she does; in fact, she has to fend off onlookers from photographing her, even while napping on the subway. Just as she wears a vintage gold embossed bag as a necklace, Joanne turns brass discs from a junkyard from a handbag into a “jewelry sculpture” by adding a leather strap. Culture clash lesson to glean from Joanne Petit-Frere: why ever succumb to the ordinary when you can be extraordinary?

If you like Joanne Petit-Frere, you might also enjoy Ruqaiyah Johnson and Paul Alexander.