She did so by creating a new sculpture from two found figurines: one, a white woman in a poofy dress; the other, a black “mammy” character, a commercial testament to racism’s long legacy in the United States. Gaignard affixed the black figure’s head atop the white character’s elegantly attired body. Now, the statuette “has a moment to tell a different story,” the artist says.
Gaignard’s entire practice could be seen as her own quest to tell a different story—one that challenges the stereotypes that bolster prejudice of all stripes. She was raised in a small, primarily white town in Massachusetts with her mother, who filled their home with the trappings of black Americana and black history books, like biographies of Harriet Tubman. Growing up, her feelings about race, and her relationship with her identity, were complicated. “My work channels how I felt when I was younger,” she recalls, “those feelings I couldn’t quite verbalize, because I lived in a predominantly white neighborhood, without much diversity.”
Midway through a course at pastry school, Gaignard found a mentor who had studied at Rhode Island School of Design. He convinced her to leave the kitchen behind and pursue an art career.
She took an interest in photography and began capturing her family, the characters in her hometown, and eventually herself. This growing body of work would bring her to MassArt, then Yale. Gaignard also began making sculptures. In one, she covered a pair of cowboy boots with yellow air fresheners, titling the piece High Yellow Forest, an allusion to a derogatory term used to described the skin tone of mixed race women. In another, she topped a beauty pageant trophy with a tiny, 3-D printed sculpture of her own curvaceous body, ousting the slender, fashion-mag-approved figurine that was formerly there.