“My mom really pushed me and my siblings towards the arts, going to museums, taking art classes, reading art books, everything. So I studied art history in college [at Skidmore] and then, for my senior thesis, I curated an exhibition at the museum on campus, which was about the Malian photographer Malick Sibidé—I’m half Malian—and he was this incredible photographer in Mali in the 1960s. The show was about his work, and about how I feel it is a touchstone for contemporary Black and African artists. That was my introduction into the curatorial world.
I graduated [from college] and I moved home for a year. I’m from Toronto. I was hired by my mentor, [art collector] Kenneth Montague, to curate an exhibition there. It was about W.E.B. Du Bois’s idea of double consciousness. Then, I got an internship at MoMA. After leaving there, I worked at Fotografiska [Museum]. It was a lot smaller, and it was a more eclectic experience, which was great, because I was doing everything. Three months into my job there, the pandemic hit, and my family was trying to make me feel better about losing my job there, and they were like, ‘You’ve wanted to open a gallery, why don’t you just do it now? You have time,’. So I started working on the gallery.
That brings me to where I am now, and the gallery really is a culmination of all my experiences because I never worked in galleries, I always worked in museums. My vision, I think, really reflects that. I’m really interested in education and how art intersects with all the different aspects of life. That’s more museum than gallery. I know that talking about underrepresented groups is really buzzy right now, which is frustrating because it shouldn’t be buzz. It should just be the norm. I am an “underrepresented group” for a million different reasons: I’m a woman, I’m black, I’m Muslim, I’m Jewish, so it’s not about a buzzword or about doing what’s cool. It’s really just that that was always my vision.
I’m mixed, my mom is white and my dad is Black, and I grew up with both sides. I do think that I was very much tokenized when I was younger, which isn’t right, but I do think it taught me that difference was beautiful. Now, as I grow, I realize that I really value difference and uniqueness in beauty. I think that really has informed my idea of beauty, but I also have weird little anecdotes about beauty and how I’ve unlearned things. For example, when you’re growing up, being skinny is all you want, especially growing up in predominantly white areas, which I did. My high school was all white. Everyone’s on a diet, everyone’s trying to get skinny, including myself. Then, I went to college, and there was a way more diverse idea of beauty. I appreciated that, but I didn’t necessarily co-sign it until I went to Italy. I was cheated on, and I lost all this weight accidentally, without even realizing. Then, I went abroad to Italy. So I was like, ‘Amazing! I’ll just eat as much as I want, which I was going to do anyway, and I’ll gain back my weight.’ I gained more weight than I had lost, and I loved it. For the first time ever, I loved my body. That really changed my entire perspective.
I know that talking about underrepresented groups is really buzzy right now, which is frustrating because it shouldn’t be buzz. It should just be the norm. I am an “underrepresented group” for a million different reasons: I’m a woman, I’m black, I’m Muslim, I’m Jewish, so it’s not about a buzzword or about doing what’s cool. It’s really just that that was always my vision.
First and foremost, the most important thing to me is clean beauty. I think in the same way when we talk about organic food, it is very elitist and privileged to talk about it and be like, “This is the best stuff you should be using,” because it’s more expensive. I do want to preface this by saying that I know that not everyone can do this, but personally, I really love using more natural products.
I have a very simple skincare routine. In the morning, I don’t actually wash my face. I just wet it, unless I wake up and I’ve had a lot of pimple cream and I have to get off. I usually do a serum in the morning, and it depends on the time of year. Right now, this company Muri Lelu sent me this CBD serum that I adore. I put that on my skin, or sometimes I’ll apply Vitamin C. Then I do my moisturizer. At the moment, I’m using Tata Harper. My favorite thing ever in any part of my beauty routine, hair, body, or face, is oil. I love an oil. I used to have very combination skin. My cheeks were so dry, and then my nose was so shiny. Once I started using an oil, that wasn’t an issue anymore. I also just love dewy skin. At the moment I’m using Maya Chia. It’s fabulous. I use sunscreen after the oil. I use Supergoop Play. Then, I use Pai’s Impossible Glow Bronzing Drops. It’s hyaluronic acid with a shimmer in it.
At night, I do something similar. I double cleanse, and a lot of people double cleanse with an oil first. First I use a gel cleanser from Detox Market, because I feel like that gets my makeup off better. Then, I do a ThisWorks cleansing wipe to get everything off. Right now, the second cleanser I’m using is Ranavat. It’s a cream cleanser and it leaves my skin feeling really nice. Then, I do a Sahajan Toner, it’s ayurvedic. At night, it always depends. Sometimes, I just go right to my thick Tata Harper cream, and then a CBD oil by Muri Lelu. Or, I add something in if I need it. For example, sometimes I’ll add Moon Juice’s Acid Potion. Or sometimes, if I need an extra boost of hydration, instead of the last two steps, I’ll use this Ren Overnight Mask. I also use Hero Cosmetics Mighty Patches when I need them to draw stuff out. And, the Henne Lip Mask every night.
Any time I have an event, I go to Face Gym. Not being from New York, I have my lady in Toronto, who I’m obsessed with. She’s actually my acupuncturist, she’s my Chinese medicine doctor, and then she also does microneedling.
I got laser [on my body]. I actually started getting it when I was sixteen. It was a good idea, except for in college, when my friends were growing out their armpit hair and dyeing it fun colors, and I was definitely jealous. I was like, ‘Fuck, I’m a feminist, why can’t I do this?’ My body care routine is a lot less involved. Every time I shower, I scrub myself everywhere with an antimicrobial loofah. I hate the squeaky clean feeling, because I need to feel moisturized, so I always use a moisturizing body wash by Moed. On some days when I’m feeling less lazy, I’ll use a salt scrub, so then I’m really feeling oiled up and amazing. When I leave the shower, I either use a body oil or a very, very thick body cream. I use the Odacité Jasmine Oil and Hana Hana Beauty Shea Butter. But if I’m washing my hair, I can’t use the shea butter because my hair air dries and the bottoms will be really oily. If I’m also doing my hair routine that day, then I have to use something lighter. I use the Acure Body Lotion.
I get a massage once a week because I have chronic pain. It’s funny—whenever I get a new massage therapist, they’re always touching me and they’re like, “Oh my god! How often do you get a massage?” And I’m like, “Once a week.” They’re like, “Whaaaat? Your back is so fucked up!” And I just say, “Yeah, I know.” I also love to get lymph drainage every once in a while. I’ve been going to Ricari Studios for lymph drainage. For massages, I go to Press Modern Massage. I also do acupuncture at Soho Acupuncture on Center Street, which really helps with my back pain. I also go to an osteopath, who’s amazing. He’s blind, so he really feels your body. When I’m being good, I go once every two weeks or even once a week, because he also does massage and cupping, but I haven’t been for awhile.
My hair is the thing that I’m most self conscious of. I used to have very curly hair, and it’s always been thin, but I had a lot of it, so it looked thick. When I was younger, I hated it of course. I straightened it and whatever. Then, I started to embrace it and it was great. I got diagnosed with a thyroid issue, and hormones I guess just make your hair change every seven years. Basically, now it’s a lot less curly, and it fell out, so it’s a lot thinner. It’s getting back to normal, it’s getting better, but it’s just my biggest insecurity.
When I go to the salon and they do it, they always put oil, or they always put these things. I only use oil on my scalp before shampooing to help it grow, I use Bask & Lather Co. Scalp Oil. Nobody knows what to do with my hair. I went to Detox Market last time and I noticed that they didn’t have much for curly hair, and the woman was like, ‘Listen. Go online to Ecoslay, check out your hair porosity, and then they’ll give you products to use.’ It’s only been three weeks, but I feel like I’ve noticed a difference. For a long time, I was like, ‘I’ll get back to where my hair was.’ I use Nutrafol, which has definitely worked. I also have thyroid medication. All of these things have helped my hair, and it’s definitely way better than it was, but I’ve had this idea that it’ll go back to when I was in high school and finally, in the past two months, I’ve realized that I have to let that go.
I try to only wash my hair once or twice a week. Ecoslay has taught me that once a month, I have to do a clarifying treatment, so it’s just apple cider vinegar and water. Then, I do a protein treatment, also from EcoSlay, once a month. Week to week, I just do my normal EcoSlay Clarifying Shampoo. I use Vegamour Conditioner for fine hair. For styling, my hair needs more of a gel, because I have issues with hold and shape. I use the EcoSlay Orange Marmalade Gel. If I want more of a straight and wavy look, I’ll use EcoSlay Buttercream.
I try to get my hair cut every three months because I want it to grow, but I also don’t want it to be gross at the ends. I call it dusting. I have two hairdressers in New York and one in Toronto. I just got my hair cut from the one in Toronto, and we realized I’ve been going to her for ten years, which is crazy. She just knows. My two hairdressers here, one is a really good friend of my ex-boyfriend. If there’s a photo shoot and I need a hairdresser and they don’t have one, I always get him to come. He’s great. His name is Ben Skirvin—he actually does famous people quite often. For example, I needed my hair done the day of the Met Gala, because it was the opening of my gallery, and he couldn’t because he was at the Met Gala, doing hair. The other person who I love is Jasmine, and she is also really lovely.
With makeup, I try to be as clean as possible, but it’s harder because there’s so many fun things out there that are not clean. I would say it’s half and half. I always start with Pai Impossible Glow Bronzing Drops. I also have a little bit of hyperpigmentation, so sometimes I’ll use something a little thicker, more of a tinted moisturizer. I like Glossier or Milk Makeup. I’ll mix with Saie’s Glowy Super Gel. If I don’t want to do much, I’ll use that [Pai], and then I’ll use the Kosas Eyebrow Pencil to fill them in a little bit, brush them out. If I’m doing a very clean look, I do blush from ILIA Beauty, and a little bit of undereye concealer. If I want to be more snatched, I use contour on my cheeks and forehead. If I’m really trying to look good, I usually either do an eyeshadow or an eyeliner. I have a little tip for mascara, because people always compliment me on it: I do three coats, and then I do the tips of my lashes once it’s dried a little, and then I brush them out. It makes my lashes look so much longer and thicker. There’s so many mascaras that I love. Right now, I’m using one from Benefit. Marc Jacobs randomly had an excellent one. Too Faced Better Than Sex is a really good one. The ILIA Beauty one is really good, especially because it’s clean.
For my bronzer, I use the liquid Charlotte Tilbury one. I find it really just looks natural. I use her highlighter as well, the gold one. For highlight, I also really like Hourglass Cosmetics. It’s embarrassing to admit, but my favorite eyeshadow palettes are from KKW Beauty. The quality is excellent. If we’re talking about my favorite palettes that I cannot afford, we’re obviously talking about Pat McGrath. That is the top tier, but I’m not really willing to spend $125 on a palette since I don’t wear eyeshadow every day. I also love Fenty Beauty. I love her contour and highlight sticks, which I use often.
I really do try to use clean lipstick, because it’s literally in my mouth. I have all of these lipsticks that I love from the past, these colors, so I actually go to Bite and they can basically create the exact same color for you, but it’s clean. My favorite right now is the nude that I got there. I literally was like, “I want a nude that looks good on me,” and they mix it for you right there and make a beautiful color. I really like the Kosas colors, and I really like Kjaer Weis. Those are the clean ones I like, but honestly I’ve found it hard to find all the colors that I want, so then I go to Bite.
I’m such a nail person. Usually, I get gel, and I go to all different places. I love Chillhouse, I love the place near me… There’s so many good places for nails in the city. But the other day, I was invited to this gala last minute, and my nails looked a mess, and I realized that I had bought Chillhouse press-on nails. I’m going to buy all of them now because they’re so easy, they feel like real nails, and it took me 20 minutes. I’m obsessed. I never considered press-ons, but I was in a pinch, and I’d ordered them for some reason years ago, and I never wore them. They went with the outfit, so I did it. It’s excellent."
-- as told to ITG
All photos taken by Louisiana Mei Gelpi in New York City