Halima Blacker, Make-Up Artist
Today’s story is the fourth of seven features by Contributing Writer Delwar Hussain
Halima Blacker is perched on the edge of the table, head tilted to one side, mouth ajar. Like a surgeon with a scalpel, she draws a line over an eyebrow with absolute precision. In her other hand, smeared in colours that resemble bruises, she holds a palette of paints.
Halima is a make-up artist and we are in her attic studio overlooking the rooftops of Brick Lane. Her friend Zahra Idrissi, whom she is working on, is a soul singer and lives a few streets away.
Around them, the table as well as the rest of the room is overflowing with containers crammed with brushes and sponges, pens and bottles, tubs, tubes, jars, vials and trays. There are racks of liquids and powders, things that squirt, others that spew, some that pump, or burst or spray. They have names like Liquid Suede, Intense Retinal Fluid, Liquid Metal, Le Style Ultra Slim & Aqua Cream. Colours range from cyan or peach tornado to jungle and soft ochre. There are brushes that look like spring flower buds, others that resemble the heads of little birds or the tails of furry creatures.
Halima mostly works in silence even though reggae music plays from a mobile phone. At one point, she stops and she and Zahra talk about Grace Jones, Kim Kardashian and the Hottentot Venus all in one breath. The process is intimate, tactile and visceral. Quick, delicate waves and sweeps across a cheekbone, a cotton bud below an eye to merge colours together and finger tips to pat colour in. All of this is occasionally broken up with instructions for Zahra.
“E” Halima says.
“EEEEEEEE,” Zahra repeats, stretching her mouth as far back as possible so that she can apply colour on the contours of her lips.
“Don’t blend yet, it needs to dry.”
Zahra keeps her mouth open but has stopped EEEEEEing.
“Ok, blend….” Halima instructs.
Zahra brings her lips together and gently squeezes them, smudging the various tones together to make a different shade from the ones applied.
“……that will make the colour pop,” Halima says, “like you’ve had a raspberry and it’s stained your lips.”
With another look, I watch as Halima takes a honeycomb stencil, places it onto Zahra’s forehead and dabs it with fluorescent pink powder.
“That’s done,” she announces. “It’s messy, but I like it.”
“Really, what about my lips,” Zahra asks, confused.
“I’m drawing them on your hands.”
“Oh really,” Zahra replies, “that’s ‘sick,’” and they both burst into laughter.
Zahra now looks part-reptilian, part-something-that-has-emerged-out-of-sixties-Pop-Art-or-nineties-Acid-House. But it is not finished until she puts her hand with the lips painted on it next to her mouth in the style of The Thinker by Rodin and suddenly it all changes. It reminds me of Picasso’s, Weeping Woman or Woman Wearing Yellow Hat (Jaqueline). Yet Halima’s work is not static, or one-dimensional on a canvas, or – in this case – even on a face. It moves, acts and reacts. Zahra pulls her phone out and makes a video of herself and uploads it onto Snapchat giving it new life and incarnations.
It may be too easy to say that what Halima does is an extension of the graffiti that lines Brick Lane where she has lived all her life, but it emerges out of the same place and time. She is not limited to just faces or hands either, her studio is packed full of jewellery that she also makes. It all blends different styles and forms – from Fine Art to Performance to Craft, as well as urban street culture, music and fashion.
Halima tells me that she has been making people up since she was six, when her older sister gave her lipstick samples from Avon. She remembers painting her cousin’s faces, doing different themes and, from that, she progressed to weddings.
“Brides usually want to look as different to their real self as possible,” Halima says. “They want a defined nose, sculpted cheekbones, chiselled this and highlighted that. They want to hide what they think are their imperfections. The funny thing is that they always say they want it natural, but this requires a huge amount of make-up.”
Today Halima works on music videos and fashion shoots, yet it is her own work that she feels most connected to. “I use make-up to create something, rather than just to make someone beautiful or blend in. I love colour and I love experimenting with texture. I like using make-up to communicate whatever I’m feeling. People may feel free, but looking at what they put on their faces you can see that they are trapped. I hear people say that they have never put green on their face – for example – or blue, which I find strange. I think what I do helps them to express a sense of freedom.”
Halima stamps Zahra’s mouth with an ink pad. I ask what it says on it.
“The world of reality has its limits but the world of imagination is boundless.”
“Don’t focus too much on what it says,” she tells me, “I’m using it more for how it looks” – yet I like these words, they are entirely appropriate.
Photographs © Sarah Ainslie
Arrange your make-up session with Halima at www.makeupsurgery.net
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