I’m writing to you from the sandy state of Qatar (quick geography debrief: it’s the small peninsula jutting off the east coast of Saudi Arabia); I’m here helping out with an art & design conference at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, the school where I used to work. It’s a sweet reunion—I get to see old friends, former students, and bask in the endless sunshine and surreal, super-luxury of this country I once called home. Also, I get paid in shawarmas. Lots of ‘em.
Of interest to you is a workshop I’ve been covering over the week. Shanghai-based designer, Ailadi Cortelletti, and professional opera singer, Gao Mingbo, have been teaching students face-painting techniques used in traditional Beijing opera, called Lian Pu. Referred to as “painting of the heart and soul,” Lian Pu is high impact full-face makeup that exaggerates performers’ expressions and emotions for the audience. Colors are also symbolic of character traits—for example, red is for bravery, blue denotes strength, gold/silver are signs of the supernatural (e.g. gods and spirits), and white equals treachery, etc. As a performer, Mingbo is a Lian Pu expert; his professional training began when he was young, and he brought traditional Chinese paints, powders, and brushes with him to the desert.
The student participants are no strangers to cosmetics—it’s fair to say the Gulf is a region pretty obsessed with preening, and as art students, they are already in possession of steady hands, sharp eyes, and strong Lady Gaga-appreciation needed to succeed in this type of exercise. First, they learned two traditional L ian Pu styles to practice on each other. Then they invented looks of their own, taking creative license to highlight strong aspects of their personalities. Ailadi has been shooting photos of them in unexpected settings around campus and bottles of Bioderma Créaline are going completely untouched. Everyone is determined to keep their makeup on all day, no matter the conference schedule. It’s been pretty excellent crossing paths with such fierce faces in the cafeteria and lecture halls. Beyond giving students a chance to improve their brush skills and take on a theatrical alter ego, these are the moments Instagram was made for.
Keep it 3ajeeb (Arabizi for “weird/cool”)!