We talk to Salwa Rahman about being a beauty outsider and re-engaging with her religion
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Salwa Rahman doesn’t want to be known as a merely make-up artist. For her, single labels are too constricting. It sits with all other labels that people try and pigeonhole her with and takes away from her many facets: make-up artist, model, creative director, nurturer of female creativity and energy; British, Bangladeshi. “I am a bit of everything and a bit of nothing all at the same time,” she says.
Well versed in the language of beauty, her Instagram is a glorious gallery of scintillating looks, ranging from intricate webbed patterns drawn over eyes to blocks of bold colour smudged across her face. “For me, the process of creating a look from my imagination, curating it, seeing what works and seeing when things go wrong is truly fun for me because I think it emphasises my basic human nature - to explore and to make mistakes.”
Having recently been featured on a panel for Vogue Beauty and Glossier, she’s currently focusing on her career, all the while remaining a peaceful and centred person – relatable.
We chat to her about being a beauty outsider and becoming a better Muslim.
Tell me a bit about yourself and where you grew up?
So I was initially raised in the wonderful borough of Tower Hamlets, although it wasn’t as wonderful and gentrified back then - I used to live in a two-bedroom council estate and went to a predominantly South Asian (I think like 98% Bengali?) primary school. Looking back on it I think it did affect my personality and how I viewed my own culture and I did place a heavy emphasis on embodying more caucasian characteristics to gain success because that was the only examples of success that I had come across. I suppose as I’ve grown older it’s changed my outlook in regards to myself.
What is it you do and why do you do it?
Honestly, it’s just me having fun on my face - there really isn’t any more to it. I feel like people get really caught up in the technicalities rather than the actual act or even the mentality of make-up itself and how it should be used as a tool for self-expression, experimentation and also just self-acknowledgement too. I do it because I enjoy it.
How did you get into it?
Every girl experiences make-up at some point in their lives, whether you hate it or love it. I used to absolutely hate it as a kid when girls used to steal their mum's lipsticks I used to steal (or more precisely barter) Gameboys from my mum’s best friend’s son. I never had any inclination for beauty, but I always loved colour and art and so naturally as I grew older and became more aware of make-up I also began to experiment with bending the rules a little bit - I was the only 13-year-old kid with bright teal kohl eyeliner from Urban Decay at my school and I revelled in all its high school outsider beauty glory. From there it just grew, I gave less shits and had more fun and now here I am.
What are you working on at the moment?
Currently, I am working on myself, I feel that my love for religion has waned so I am trying to reeducate and reimplement Islam back into my life. It’s been very good so far!
Tomorrow you wake up with another face of your choice. Whose is it and why?
Either Miss Fame, Naomi Campbell or young Aishwarya Rai - I know you asked for one but I am going make the most of this - all are powerful women (plus drag queen) and they all have striking features that I feel can be manipulated into any sort of look and, given what I do, I would love to try and experiment on those faces as they would make lovely canvasses.
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?
My favourite thing about me is my skin - but I don’t know any icons who also have a Leatherface fantasy so I really can’t say.
It's 30 years from now. You stumble home at 3am and catch your reflection in the fridge door. What do you look like?
I look happy, hopefully, my journey to being a better Muslim and a better person, in general, has led me to have a more peaceful and centred life.
If you could have a new sense on top of your existing ones, what would it be?
I would love to be able to mix senses without the use of drugs, so to taste colours or to see temperatures, I think that if we were able to use all our senses for all things that would be a pretty cool way to live.