You may have seen Lindsay painting faces at the last festival you went to — she is guaranteed to make you look and feel your best when you’re out. Given her incredible body art talent, we asked Lindsay to paint Nandi Kegode for our nude photoshoot that explored and celebrated Nandi’s journey.
Here are some selected works by Lindsay, interview below.[sp_wpcarousel id=”856″]
Afterwards, Lindsay spoke to us about her art and her journey:
iN: How did you first start doing body art? How did it become a business?
It started at Nyege Nyege, in 2016 — I was there as a participant. I painted myself so that my friends could find me easily (I didn’t want to carry my phone). Sadia Ibrahim, who runs Kenya Nights, was staying next to me, and she suggested that I paint people in Nairobi. She told me to charge whatever I wanted at Kenya Nights, and I realised I could turn it into a profitable business. Not that I’m rich, but it’s a very successful business within a niche market.
iN: Where do you see yourself and your body art work in five years?
I’m open — I experiment with everything, from set design to mural work to jewellery. I have many strengths, a lot of things interest me, and a lot of things influence me. So I might feel one way about something this week and then the next week it’s completely different. But as far as my body art is concerned, I know I do not want to do it for forever. I want to enjoy it while I can before I start resenting it. Because if you’re the only person who can do what you do and you’re in high demand, but you’re in an artistic environment that doesn’t appreciate the kind of artwork you do, and people challenge the prices you charge, then you will become resentful towards your own industry. So you need to expand your talents and see how far you can reach with everything that you have. If there is a specific direction that I would want to go after body art, it would probably be in mural work. But it’s subject to change.
iN: Have you started to feel that — pushback on your prices and people taking you seriously?
Oh absolutely, that started from the beginning. That has been my whole career. Because unfortunately when you’re introducing a community to a niche art form, you have to prove yourself to people constantly. You have to do the hard work for everyone else who wants to get into such a market, or into such an art form. Because it’s not something that people will have been taught is a legitimate thing. As far as Kenyans are concerned, body art is something only kids do at birthday parties. So you have to constantly explain yourself. And it does get tiring. I understand that it’s something that I have to do — but once I feel that people understand body art, that’s when I’ll let it go, for sure, because I’ll feel like my work is done.
iN: What is the craziest experience you’ve had while doing body art?
It was at the Soysambu in the Wild festival. That made me realise that sometimes people look at artists, especially in my field — and in makeup — they look at your art as a service. And it can be hard for me to understand that even as a businesswoman. Going to that festival for me was so different because for the first time I felt like a worker. There were also many underlying things — it was a completely white, colonial festival. And I just felt a complete disconnect. People didn’t even bother getting to know anyone who was not white. And I couldn’t believe that that was happening in my own country. And I also couldn’t believe that my services were being hired for something like that. The grounding thing when it comes to my craft is that I get to have intimate, open conversations with people, for ten minutes of their day. But in this case, no one really cared to say anything or to share a moment. Although perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect the same thing from everyone, I’ve done this for long enough to know what to expect. I take how I’m treated by my clients very personally, because there is a very intimate moment that happens with the people I interact with, and that’s a great time for you to shine as a person. And so when you choose not to, that’s something that I have to simmer on for a while.
iN: What is one thing you wish people knew about body art that they don’t?
One is that it’s not Wakanda. Hearing my artwork reduced to Wakanda is one of the most annoying things I experience on a daily basis. Because a lot of people forget that Black Panther is an idea and an artwork that belongs to someone else. So the ideology there — as much as the influences are very much traditional and very real — my body art is not a reflection of that whatsoever. The way I paint is very dependent on the way I feel about you — looking at your features and highlighting them and making sure that those specific things stand out. But I have nothing to do with anything tribal; it has nothing to do with anything Wakanda-related.
And with body art generally — not just mine — a lot of people don’t understand what the point of it is, if someone cannot own it or buy it. And I guess I get that — consumerism is our new religion, so I get the questions about the “value”. But I’d say that value is in everything you decide has value. A lot of people do things that don’t necessarily financially make sense — look at it that way in body art as well: it doesn’t have to make sense financially, it’s about what you feel is important and enjoying different art forms in their entirety.
iN: In painting Nandi, what was your inspiration? What was your process?
The first thing I wanted to do was to make sure she was comfortable with everything I was doing. Because for the most part, a lot of people tell me to just come and do my thing. And that usually works out — but with Nandi, one thing I had to keep in mind was that it was bigger than my artwork, it was about the story that needed to be told. And getting into that space and deciding what to do on her was based off of the conversations we were having and what I felt would best highlight her. With Nandi, I feel like she is very layered. And so I experimented with different shapes and different textures — in some areas there is splatter, in some areas there are bold lines going down.
iN: Why black and gold?
Visually, contrast makes an impact. And African skin and gold has always been a perfect combination. Also, with gold, it’s congratulatory: Nandi has gone through so much. She is who she is and she’s aware of that, and she’s playing to her strengths to the best of her ability. And we have to appreciate that — appreciate her journey and how she has emerged from all the different spaces that she has been in. I feel we need to have an awards ceremony for her, and if you wanted to show your appreciation towards someone, you would give them gold.
iN: What was surprising about the project?
I thought I’d have to worry more about Nandi than I actually did because this was very sensitive. So I was really watching what I said and the questions that I asked, because you don’t know what will trigger certain people, so I wanted to create the best environment on set.
iN: What is different about painting full bodies vs. just faces?
There is a whole different level of vulnerability that someone has if they’re nude. Our whole existence on this planet is defined by our mind, our body, and our soul. Mind and soul no one can touch, no one can really claim. But with someone’s body, that’s the only body they’ll ever have — it’s just that one vessel. And for the most part, most people don’t really value that. The reason why body shame and body insecurity is a thing is a lot of people really feel that their body is a huge part of what they represent and what they are. So for someone to trust me to use their body as a canvas is powerful compared to just doing faces. It’s more intimate on a whole different level.
See more of Lindsay and her work at instagram.com/ah_this.