“Of course beauty is inner ... It is buried under makeup!" Nadine de Rothschild
“ADORN” means to make something more attractive by addition. It means to embellish with pretty objects or to animate, enliven or decorate with ornaments.The photographic series "Adorn" deals with contemporary Senegalese women reinterpreting European beauty standards with modern makeup.I used to see pictures online of women in Mali and Senegal in extravagant makeup. They had shaved eyebrows redrawn with henna or permanent tattoos, excessive powder foundation and copious amounts of blush on their prominent cheekbones. They redesigned their lips with a dark brown pencil and then colored them with bright gloss.
The women are inventive in their efforts to create the perfect image. They decorate and seduce. They are not shy, they strive to be noticed, to please and impress. And they are celebrated at baptisms and weddings, social events where they flash their shine. Yet some criticize this ornate makeup. Initially, I too was shocked by their aesthetic. It seemed unnatural to me. But through the process of producing this work, my impressions changed. I began to see these women as artists in their own right, with limitless creativity. They paint their faces in a surreal style; they sculpt their own seduction. They embellish themselves and in so doing, embellish reality. Censorship and tasteful codes do not matter. The most important thing is to be beautiful by any means possible. But who defines what is beautiful or ugly? What influences our relationship to beauty, our perception of what is good or bad taste? Where does tradition start? Where does it stop?
In this makeup, I see parallels to geishas, with their powdered white faces and highlighted features. I see traces of contemporary ganguro and harajuku girls in Tokyo, with their uninhibited extravagance in makeup. I also think of the nomadic Bororo Fulani of the Sahel who cover their faces with rust colored foundation and paint it with yellow lines. The aesthetic of these Dakaroise seem at odds with contemporary notions of “sophistication” and “good taste.” But they are creating their own fashion, shining in their own environment, and they are doing so now, so it is by definition contemporary.
But still their look raises questions. Why is the foundation powder so much lighter than the original skin color? What is this frantic need to stand out and be admired? What does the practice of outrageous makeup imply? Is it a form of protection? I am interested also in how these women transform western beauty codes. They use European makeup, but they reinterpret it in their own image. Why does it cause such violent rejection and mockery from certain Africans? What does it trigger?
Without judgment, or a final answer to these questions, my eye landed on the shapes, the colors, and the faces as a whole ensemble. These daring artists of the ephemeral, despite facing criticism, create an image that on their own terms gives them the feeling of being valued, different, noteworthy. They are unapologetic.