‘Before you step outside, I love you’. Writes Travis Alabanza in their seminal poetry chapbook.
For a few years I’ve worked with, and been a friend of Travis, a renowned performer, writer and artist who is a transfeminine person of colour and a creative powerhouse. I myself identify as Agender, I was assigned female at birth and feel some connection with all genders.
Love is taken from brown and black people, queer and trans people. We lose family, partners, friends, jobs, and even friendly smiles in the streets. All those small portions of love and acceptance are chipped away from us, and so we ask for some love. In my work I try to do my small part of healing this difficult relationship.
Many queer and trans people and people of colour experience judgement and rejection when it comes to their appearance. As a makeup artist, I don’t just provide a simple service, I provide a space that is about you and your beauty.
A space which assumes that you are sufficiently beautiful. That you can look however you wish to look and I will facilitate that desire, and then validate it.
Starting out as a makeup artist I realised something quite crucial. A lot of makeup artists don’t know how to deal with skin and variety of skin colours. They either just don’t care to learn or they don’t have the practice and talent to work with any skin that isn’t that of a porcelain-faced teenager. This was how they got by, that clean dewy skin backstage at Dior isn’t makeup, that’s the model. As I realised how rife this situation was, I knew I could get somewhere in this industry. I can work with any skin colour, texture or type. I’m just good at it, I know my craft, and I didn’t realise early enough that that was a rarity.
I work with mostly people of colour and LGBTQ people, people who are usually adults and have different needs when it comes to makeup. This is a variety from those who might need help covering their stubble to avoid violence, or they may be a performer performing as a certain persona. Overall, they come to me because they want to look the way they want to look, not the way someone else wants them to. My visual vocabulary is wide enough to understand their vision.
Famous artists like Charlotte Tilbury have a look that they do. Her models and clients are light skinned, young, and they all end up with a smoky cat eye and a nude lip. It’s certainly a look I can do, and I do it sometimes, but how tragic is it to have all these faces and have them all walk away looking the same? When we talk about diversity we must include everyone, that means gender non-conforming people, disabled people, people with dark skin. Inclusion doesn’t mean assimilation, it means widening our definitions of beauty. I never assume a person with dark skin wants lighter skin, or that a woman of trans experience wants to uphold society's beauty standards for women. Those assumptions are oppressive, and when someone sits in my makeup chair they are celebrated.
The past two years of my career have proved that artists like me are sorely needed. People of colour and LGBTQ people are getting more recognition in the media, and they need artists who can work with them. Careers in the arts and media have felt out of reach for people of colour and queer people, especially for those of us who are both, but we have to take up space in all aspects, we need to be not just the stars, but the makeup artists, hair stylists, photographers, sound engineers, costume designers, we have to take all the jobs, because only then will we see media which really represents us. Real diversity is a process, not just an outcome.
I chose a job where I look at faces of people who feel hated and I love them. My gaze is reserved for queer people, for people of colour. And when I look at you, I love you.