To say Zeeshan Ali is a makeup artist would be a massive understatement of his skills. What he does is transform; it’s a coming together of fashion design, styling, makeup and modelling. He creates walking art, as he calls it, and preserves them in photographs for the world to see. “It’s just magical,” he says. “I love to design characters and breathe life into them through my work.”
A Mumbaikar living in Bangalore, Zeeshan always had an inherent curiosity when it came to fashion, makeup and styling but he truly bloomed as an artist after his switch from being a medical student to a fashion institute. “That’s when I realised I don’t want to put myself into one box,” he says. He experimented with everything and anything he could get his hands on. Like many of us, YouTube was his guide; “YouTube was my makeup Institute and I was my very own canvas. I soon started working on developing illustrative makeup looks.”
Scrolling through his Instagram feed, it’s really hard to pick a favourite in what is basically an art exhibition of his characters and design. Although, all was not glitter and gold, Zeeshan has come a long way from his college days where he’d use whatever resources were available to him – his wardrobe, a couple of cosmetic products, a decent camera phone and his own skills. “As I got a hang of it, I only went bigger with extravagant costume designs, dramatic makeup and accessories. I do everything by myself and on myself as it is the best way to get my work out there on a low budget,” he explains. “My art strives to create a vibrant ménage of costume, styling, makeup and photography through characters. It’s like living a fantasy, in reality, It’s my medium of expression. It has become such an integral part of my life and I have grown with it.”
Society has certain standards and a set image when it comes to what a ‘man’ and a ‘woman’ should look like, behave like, and isn’t exactly welcoming when it comes to men in high fashion and makeup, but Zeeshan doesn’t see it like that. For him, there are good things and bad when it comes to pretty much anything. He agrees that there are certain perceived societal standards, but there are also people out there that welcome and celebrate those that are considered ‘different’, so to speak. “We all are different yet are similar; you just need to find other weirdos who will love you and support you for who you are. I come from a very loving circle where I have supportive family and friends. Yes, there have been struggles, but it is not permanent. I have received immense support from friends as well as strangers for my work. My craft is not conventional and I am fine with that. Gender has so much to offer, so why limit yourself to one? My craft has no boundaries – it is fluid and permeable and explores the concept of gender.”
All art holds a certain reflection of its creator. Consciously or subconsciously, you find a part of yourself in what you make. For artists exploring topics such as gender and sexuality, there is a certain exploration of self, as well as that of society that plays through the work. “There are many looks that I’ve done which are original creations that mimic my feelings, other than inspirations like Frida Kahlo. Every look has a meaning veiled into it, which could be personal. Gender for me has no limits; it can be expressed through myriad forms. To understand gender, one needs to unlearn gender. It is more than sexuality; it is a universe where everyone can form his/her/their identity. I enjoy exploring and exploiting gender norms through my work,” he says.
Zeeshan ends on a poignant note, with words of wisdom for anyone struggling to break societal barriers when it comes to their own identity and career choice. He says, “One needs to remember that it’s okay to be different, what is not okay is to be unequal. If we feel alienated, we should befriend like-minded people, create your own community to express ourselves. Don’t try to be like someone else, try to be a better version of yourself and let your uniqueness shine through.”
With many projects in the works, Zeeshan’s quite busy and extremely happy about it; a photo-series based on navarasa, the nine emotions, in collaboration with a talented young photographer, Sushmitha, as well as his own website and YouTube series. When asked what the endgame was, he said, “I don’t want the game to end, I am a player and I love challenging myself by creating new goals and achieving them.” With such beautiful creations already, we can’t wait to see what this visual wizard creates next.