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niohuru climax makeup artist New York

Niohuru is the make-up chameleon inspired by Chinese royalty

The New York-based design student and make-up artist explores gender and celebrates their Manchu heritage with their eclectic array of looks

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Scrolling through Niohuru’s Instagram account, you’re instantly captured by the array of out-of-this-world looks, almost feeling as if you’ve travelled in time to a fabulous party in the year 3021. It’s even more surprising to learn that they have only been doing make-up for nine months, picking up the brush out of boredom during life in lockdown. 

“I realised I was gay when I was very young and I lived in closet for many many years because being gay was considered a mental illness and a great sin. Pretending to be someone else was so painful and depressing and there was nobody to talk to about it so I felt so sad and alone all the time” – Niohuru Climax 

The New York-based make-up artist and Parsons design student has always been creative, with that spirit running in their family. Despite this, navigating their queerness in a conservative family in China meant that growing up was difficult. “I realised I was gay when I was very young and I lived in closet for many many years because being gay was considered a mental illness and a great sin,” they tell us. “Pretending to be someone else was so painful and depressing and there was nobody to talk to about it so I felt so sad and alone all the time.” 

During high school though, the creative found Lady Gaga’s music and it was a lifeline. “It was so different from all the Chinese pop songs I was used to. It was new, it was different, it was alive. I didn’t speak English well enough to understand the lyrics but I felt a strong connection between me and her music. We were both different , we were both considered weird, we were both not able to be understood. When “Born This Way” came out it changed me.” 

You can imagine then, the joy that the make-up artist experienced when one of their looks was noticed by their icon years later. It’s not hard to see why, every look Niohuru creates is eye candy: transforming into reptilian goddesses, alien queens, or a bottle of poppers. Bringing their Manchu heritage to their looks is also important, and part of how they came up with their persona, previously Himalaya Climax and now simply Niohuru. “I was sitting in Rubin Museum writing an essay and there happened to be a Himalayan art exhibition,” they say. “I have family from Tibet and have been there several times. I am very inspired by Tibetan Buddhism and art.” 

Ultimately, honing their persona is a way of learning more about themselves and growing. “It is more like another name for myself than a drag persona,” they muse. “Himalaya laughs when Niohuru laughs and cries when Niohuru cries. They develop with the growing and evolving of Niohuru.” 

Here, we speak with Niohuru about growing up in conservative China, finding beauty in everything, and why we should forget gender and get bubble tea instead. 

Who are you and where are you from?

Niohuru: My name is Niohuru. I’m a make-up artist living in Brooklyn, New York.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up?

Niohuru: I grew up in a small town in north east China, there’s a breathtakingly beautiful coastline there. I spent a lot of time in nature when I was a kid, either fishing with my grandpa or collecting crabs on the beach. The swamp, ocean, beautiful landscapes, and the animals were the first things that inspired me in my hometown and they became an inspiration for my art over the years. 

What is it you do and how did you get into it?

Niohuru: I’m a make-up artist and a fashion designer. I’m currently a second year student at Parsons for fashion design. I’ve been into art for as long as I can remember. My family is full of artistic women; my mum is a musician and opera singer, my grandma is a dressmaker and interior designer. I spent a lot of my childhood watching my grandma sew and make dresses and I believe that sparked my love for beauty. 

What are you trying to communicate through your work and why?

Niohuru: I’m a firm believer that everything can be beautiful. It all depends on how you see it, use it, and manipulate it. Whenever people come to my apartment, they’re impressed by my ‘collection of trash’. I like to turn trash into gold. A lot of my looks were created from trash like paper boards, old garments, grape stems, and so on – things people usually don’t associate with make-up! 

I also use a lot of recycled material in my fashion designs. I used old carpet, plastic bottles, soda cans, fabric my friends threw out, etc. Beauty and fashion are such wasteful industries. The amount of water pollution to make fabric is insane. I’m from China and some rivers in southern China were permanently polluted from the local denim factories. I want to inspire people that we can turn trash into beauty through creativity and awareness. This is the only way to have a future, not just for beauty, but for us as human beings. 

Who or what inspires you? 

Niohuru: I’m a proud Chinese Manchu, it means my family is Manchurian which is a small biological and cultural minority in China. Manchu people were the royalty in the Qing dynasty. We have such a beautiful culture and few people know about. I’m always inspired by my culture and my love towards my country. 

Can you talk us through some of your favourite looks/images? What response did they get?

Niohuru: One of my all time favorite looks is the Mulan look. Mulan is a hero to my people and she is a symbol of love and loyalty. I alway look up to her and she encourages me to be a better person. I posted the look on September 18, it was the day my hometown was taken over by the Japanese army. It was the beginning of the second world war for my country, a very emotional day for me and my people. 

I didn’t release the look to provoke hate, I just wanted to remind people and educate those who didn’t know the history. History is a mirror, only by looking into it can we see ourselves and what we have done. By doing that, we can make better decisions and expect a better future. I received a lot of love and support from my followers which makes me believe more in what I stand for. 

What’s been your career highlight so far and what do you hope to accomplish ultimately?

Niohuru: First of all, I don’t think I have a career yet! I’m just another creative creature in Brooklyn who paints their face. I have only been doing make-up for nine months and the highlight of this journey would be being recognised by Lady Gaga – she means the world to me! 

I don’t have an ultimate goal yet, I’m still so new to the game and still have so much to learn. I would love to start doing more high fashion looks and work on fashion week, with magazines and creative photographers. I look forward to seeing what the universe will bring in 2021. 

What are you working on at the moment? 

Niohuru: At the moment I’m working on a series of face pieces inspired by the rainforest and creatures living in it. I used one of the pieces for a shoot with Mike Ruiz and it turned out amazing. 

What does beauty mean to you?

Niohuru: For me, beauty is a way of thinking. Whatever I see, I always try to capture the beauty of it and imagine what I could do to make it more beautiful (at least for my taste). There is beauty in absolutely everything and there is always a way to turn something that isn’t visually appealing into a piece of art. 

Describe your beauty aesthetic in three words.

Niohuru: Unconventional, experimental, and unexpected.

How do you assert your identity and experiences through your beauty?

Niohuru: I’m very proud of my Manchu background and the beautiful culture and history of my country. I always try to melt the culture into my aesthetic; I see myself in whatever I create. I have been very vocal about my struggle to define my identity, it’s very hard for me to put a gender label on myself and I wouldn’t say I’m male, female, anything in-between, or anything at all. I don’t think about gender when I think about myself. Non-binary might be the closest thing, so I think I have this very fluid vibe when it comes to my aesthetics. You can see masculinity and femininity and queerness and whatever-this-is-ness in my work and that makes me stand out. 

What’s your favourite smell and why?

Niohuru: My favourite smell is ****. There might be kids reading so I’m not going to talk about it. Me bad, me very bad. 

Which fictional character do you most relate to and why? 

Niohuru: I think of myself as a mermaid all the time. I’m an insane fish/reptile/anything with scales nerd, I could spend all day in an aquarium. 

When do you feel most beautiful?

Niohuru: I feel most beautiful when I can just be my fabulous queer ass with my family. Unfortunately, it never happened. 

How do you want to change the world?

Niohuru: I want to take the fear of being queer away from younger generations. I don’t want anyone to go through the pain I had to go through as a queer kid in a small, conservative town in China. 

You’re the editor of a time-travelling beauty journal 100 years from now, what beauty trends are you reporting on? 

Niohuru: Holographic skin!

You have to donate a feature/limb of your body to an icon of yours. You get nothing in return. What feature/limb do you give and why?

Niohuru: Nothing! Not changing my physical self for anyone. Always treat yourself as your number one icon. 

If you had to choose one surgical enhancement, what would it be and why?

Niohuru: Pointy elf ears. 

It is the sixth day and you are creating humans. They can look however you want them to. What do they look like and why?

Niohuru: Everyone has both male and female features. Gender is so overrated, we should just get bubble tea instead!

Would you rather live forever as an old person or live your life in reverse?

Niohuru: I wouldn’t choose either. Growing and ageing as a normal human being is the beauty of life and I wouldn’t trade anything for that. 

What is the future of beauty?

Niohuru: No gender is the future of beauty. Also, bubble tea.