The Instagram artist on breaking alt beauty moulds, the power of the colour red and taking beauty inspiration from ancestral Indonesian patterns and Chinese and calligraphy
Whereas male drag artists are breaking into the mainstream, with Ru Paul’s Drag Race providing an internationally viewed platform for them to shine, it’s femmes and females of the Instagram beauty community that are quietly pushing make-up use to its most radical possibilities. In her column, Femme Mystique, Dazed Beauty Contributing Editor and founder of Polyester zine Ione Gamble, shines a spotlight on the femmes creating club looks from the comfort of their bedroom as they turn to make-up to express their true identity. Through their desire to twist, subvert, or exemplify traditionally ‘feminine’ beauty traits, previously used to oppress them, as a means of empowerment, these are the people moving the craft away from mere performance and into changing how we view ourselves and the world around us.
“Intricate patterns of an ethereal realm, undulating matter, and the way water flows in alternate dimensions” are three ways Indrasari Budiman aka @tigermomdragonlady describes her aesthetic when it comes to painting her face. The Indonesia-born, East-Coast raised artist uses make-up to adorn her features with tiny swirling patterns traced in eyeliner, calligraphy spanning from her chin down her chest, and third eyes; all coordinated in similar shades of bloodthirsty red.
“The last time I got my aura read it appeared as a giant red circle; the colour just feels very sacred and central to my soul,” Indra explains of the prevalence of the colour within her work. “Red is the colour of blood, of fire, of the setting sun on beautiful and memorable days. It represents everything I long for and am grateful for in the world.” Indra’s use of the colour ricochets between smudged, diluted clouds of blush and eyeshadow; to deep, graphic half moons and decisive sharp lines. “It resonates within me, grounds me and brings me home.”
Having grown up eyes glued to YoutTube make-up tutorials through her teen years, the now 21-year-old describes her journey with beauty as being “about unlearning conventional methods of beauty, and not feeling the need to cover anything up or fit moulds of what is acceptable.” Never interested in ‘traditional’ cornerstones of make-up application such as the perfect contour or full coverage foundation, Indra has now discarded all she learned in her formative years in favour of “doing looks based on what I feel inspired by in nature and in experiences, exchanges of life, fleeting emotions and swelling hearts. Allowing myself that freedom without caring immediately about how others will respond to it was significant.” Although the New York dweller has now carved out her own immediately recognisable style, just because Indra discarded traditional notions of beauty does not mean she was immune from feeling pressure of another kind. “In the beginning, I felt like I needed to do very specific looks in order to gain people’s interest, be ‘weird’ enough, alt enough, goth enough, whatever. Only lately have I grown out of that.”
Indra credits this new found self-assurance — in part at least — to the support of her community and close circle of friends. “We’re part of a kind of transformation in online make-up culture, moving away from, again, conventional beauty standards and just doing what resonates with ourselves.” She tells me that it’s the people behind accounts such as cupidsvault, homosinner, sandytaboo, and deadanimemom that she feels a particular kinship with. “The work that my friends and I do is important and our impact will remain long after our time, because we’re young queer people of colour, and our work comes from the heart. Indra continues, “the way that we process our lives, our relationships, our trauma and pain — the way that we digest things that happen to us will surface in our art, organically, without having to explain it.”
Using make-up to embrace her heritage and history, Indra’s practice may be lead by feelings, but is underpinned by a deep-rooted desire to feel proud of her identity. “I want to convey pride in my identity that I’ve had to fight to have back. I try to do these things with justice to my heritage because in the past I’ve been ashamed of it,” she says. “I’ve come a long way since then and try to remember the lands that created me because I owe everything to them.” Drawing from traditional patterns from the home of her ancestors, Indonesian and Chinese batik patterns and calligraphy are reinterpreted for a millennial gaze through Indra’s transcription of symbols on her own face.
Despite her 12,500 strong following, Indra is currently on a social media break. “I am taking time and space from the industry, and from Instagram, to evaluate my relationship to beauty.” Using the break to reconcile notions of beauty as power, and as a means to reclaim our bodies within her own mind, Indra tells me that she feels her relationship to beauty is very ‘fraught’, and that she hopes to unpack the industry’s more problematic underbelly before diving back into her practice. “Even if we’ve broken down the most basic or simple confines of beauty like using lipstick as eyeshadow, there’s so much to unlearn still, like fatphobia and colourism.” Indra continues, “those issues are hard to tackle when our ideas of beauty are so warped. Alternative beauty can still be problematic because even if it preaches unconventionality, it still prefers thin and lighter skinned people, it’s not breaking any barriers.”
For Indra, taking her artistry away from social media and back onto the faces of herself and her friends in the real world symbolises taking back control and autonomy over her own image. “Truly, my make-up is not really for anyone’s eyes; but a means for me to have control over my body.” She finishes, “It feels like an escape from what’s expected of me. When the pressure of what’s expected of me is thrown at me from all directions, my reflection is a relief.”