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  • Victoria Applegarth

Tapping Into The Power of Makeup: Meet Keanan Justin

© Keanan Justin

Playing with makeup and clothes has always been a creative avenue, a method of escaping, and Keanan Justin learned early on the significance of understanding the power of his experimentation… and how to boogie to the Pussycat Dolls!

Scrolling aimlessly through Instagram, looking for images to repost, INJECTION stumbled across the account of Keanan Justin. It was quickly evident that his unbound creativity vitalises his account, but it was the attention to detail that first caught our eyes. With an unwavering boldness, and slick styling, his lookbooks feel ‘on trend’, but are in every way innovative and unique. We had the pleasure to chat to him about life in Cape Town, his creative references to modern pop culture and how the pandemic and online platforms allowed him to tap into the power of makeup.

Growing up what shaped your creativity?

Growing up I was always such an introvert - I still pretty much am. I always found myself alone either sketching something out or listening to music writing down the lyrics to the song. I had a little book I made specifically for lyrics to my absolute favourite songs at the time. But, I always had to be doing something with my hands because that’s how I let my creativity out; I always had to have a canvas. Further down the line I discovered foundation and even though it was about five shades too light for me - it was my sisters - I still tried it out. Although I looked insane, it was a life changing moment for me. That was the exact moment that makeup came into my life and took me on the wildest ride.

So, how did you get into makeup as more of a profession?

It all started in high school when all those makeup trends became so popular like the perfect brow and the big lips. I found it so fascinating and truly aspired to be like that. I found it so powerful and I still do. However during high school I had the darkest brows you’d have ever seen and well the lips… let’s not talk about that! When I graduated though, that’s when things got interesting because I finally was able to find out who I was and who I wanted to be one day. When 2020 hit us with Covid-19 and then lockdown, I was reunited with my passion in life. I spent hours watching makeup tutorials or reviews and was so interested in everything all the beauty gurus had to say. I then started using my face as my canvas and that’s when it truly all began. It was a bit rough at the beginning, but we got there!

Yes, your makeup is amazing! Your Instagram page is super creative, where do you find your reference points now and how do you come up with a concept?

I find inspiration in everything that surrounds me. Music. Art. Fashion icons, or not even icons. Nature. The Weather. Yes, I said the weather because it’s true! The most random things could inspire me and get my brain working. Sometimes, well most of the time, there’s too much going on and that ends up with me having four different concepts. Recently my attitude towards that has been to shove it all into one idea, no matter how crazy it seems! It’s my brand right now- all over the place, but in a good way.

© Keanan Justin

Would you say has been your favourite look that you have done?

I was super inspired when Lady Gaga dropped her Chromatica remix album. I saw all these celebs and drag queens doing those futuristic car details on fashion and I was inspired. I wanted to create that but didn’t want to do the exact same thing as everyone else. So, I took it in a different direction, and it somehow worked out because it's my favourite work to date.

© Keanan Justin

Also, I wanted to ask you on a look you did in July 2020, the one with “beauty is overrated” and the “fuck beauty, I am a monster”. What was the background to this look?

The “fuck beauty, i’m a monster” impromptu shoot was mainly me being fed up with the industry and their toxic ways of boys having to look a certain way and I felt as if I were being pushed into a box or category and I was not having it! Finding a modelling agency that truly celebrates you as an individual is something special and it’s been a long journey to get here!

A more specific, recurring feature of some of your photos seems to be a tight form of bondage around your waist. Does this carry any specific meaning to you?

It is basically just the feminine figure. During the course of lockdown last year, I watched a lot of Drag Race - I watched the same season around 10 times so I got inspired by a lot of queens from the show. I noticed that all the queens I was inspired by had these tiny waists and I just had to be like that. I had to have that same vision for myself.

I also love the show! Do you edit your own photos and how do you decide the extent of digital alterations?

It’s all done at the last minute, done by me. All the work done on my page is done by myself, except for one or two posts!

And have you had any negative online response to some of your more provocative looks and how do you face criticism, more generally?

With criticism, I don’t take note of it. Honestly, I have a very brush off personality. If someone said something, I would just block them or just delete the comment. I am not about confrontation, but I also won't take bullshit basically. If you’re going to come with negative energy, I am just going to block it off. Although I have not really dealt with much of that, surprisingly, even though I post a lot of ‘not safe for work’ images.

Does Instagram allow for your self-expression? Has there been any censorship that has impacted your engagement?

When I have everything out, I see that the posts engagements all go low. Some people do report it, but it doesn't bother me at all though. I am not doing it to offend anyone or to do anything – it is for me, and I want people to be inspired by that. When people message me and tell me that my work inspires them or send me pictures of them trying to recreate a look of mine, it makes me so happy.

In South Africa, do you face criticism from the public?

My Instagram is so different from my life. Instagram are the characters in my head that are brought to life basically. The characters that I create, I want people to see. What goes on inside of here (points to head), that’s what I want to put out on my Instagram. I would never post a random selfie, that’s not what I want to be putting out to the world. If I am ever looking for inspiration, I want to be able to go back to my work and look at what I have done and how I can better that or do a better version of that maybe. In South Africa, I have never really felt comfortable going outside in ‘this’. I would do the normal face, lipliner obviously because that’s ME! But if anyone ever says something to me, I would just walk past them – it doesn’t bother me to that certain point but I know that it bothers a lot of people. It's not a great thing.

How has COVID impacted your work – has it pushed you to be more creative or been a hindrance?

It affected modelling, but it wasn’t that big of a job – it was something that was on the side, and now it is even more on the side. With makeup and Instagram, it actually helped so much as I could focus on what I needed to do and how I needed to better myself. That made brands want to work with me. I reached out to brands, especially local ones and I formed great relationships with them, and that was all because of the time that COVID allowed me.

Overall, what does makeup mean to you? What is the power of makeup to you?

Makeup means finally getting to express myself and what goes on inside of my brain, and to give the world that tiny peek into my mind, even though it’s all over the place! It’s that much needed power and confidence boost it provides that truly feeds my soul, from waking up and feeling down and in 20 minutes feeling like a complete pop star that’s ready to tour the world all because of makeup.

Who are some creatives that you think everyone should know about or the ones that you always look to?

For makeup artists, I would say: Val Garland. She is one of the judges from Glow Up and since I started watching that, I was obsessed with her work. She did the Gaga ‘Born This Way’ album cover, and enough said. Definitely a lot of drag artists, like Violet Chachki, Miss Fame, all of them. I could name so many, and we would be here for an hour. They have inspired me the most out of everyone.

© Keanan Justin

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