Putting On Faces in Dubai – A Body Painter’s Take on Art

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Dubai-based body paint artist Alicia Goveas explains how art can be a means of escape, body art as a medium of message, and art’s role in making the world a better place

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While we chance upon faces with a cursory glance, either to spot familiarity or confirm unacquaintance, Alicia Monica Goveas – a 22-year old resident of Dubai – sees every face as a canvas. A professional face and body painter who has been flexing the brush for over a year, Alicia’s work reflects in boys flashing their beaming smile behind the newly acquired Hulk and Batman skins, and girls in Frozen princesses and the quintessential Barbie.

face and body art gave me this sense of uniqueness and identity that painting on paper did not. It’s not something everyone can do

 In a short time, her work has taken her to the pages of the national daily Khaleej Times where she was profiled as a ‘Young Artist’, and a chance to attend the International Makeup Artists Trade Show (IMATS) in London. She runs the Instagram account @Dubai_FaceandBodyArtist to display her artistic journey in the city.

Body painting has been an age-old practice in many tribal traditions and still survives in its ancient form among the indigenous people of Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific islands and parts of Africa. In the Middle East, the most popular form of body art exists in the form of Henna where women decorate their hands and arms with cursive designs on occasions such as marriage and Eid.

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Be it birthdays or the National Day of a country, face-painting brings a dash of colour to children’s celebration

Though the penchant for ‘all things art’ saw her pursue a course in Interior Design and face-painting as a hobby, Alicia’s foray into the professional space began as an accidental opportunity rather than one specially carved out. It was also the moment that indicated towards a brightly coloured future in this niche of art.

“I used to work a lot of promotional jobs that time. It so happened one day that at an event, the face painter bailed out at the 11th hour. A very panicked event manager approached all of us and asked if anyone was remotely artistic or could paint. I volunteered for the work. From there on, my journey began.”
Alicia’s choice of expressing on skin instead of paper stems from its uniqueness and a dearth of professional services in  the United Arab Emirates. “Though I’ve been a huge fan of painting on paper and have recently started caricatures, it never gave me this sense of uniqueness and identity like the way face and body art did. It’s not something everyone can do,” says Alicia, who also confesses that she’s chosen the tougher route. With the human skin and the sense of touch, there’s no room for trial and error. “Painting on the skin is very different from painting on paper. It takes different strokes and amounts of paint to finally get the result you’re looking for. What helped me was watching a lot of YouTube tutorials and practicing on my own hands and legs.”

people like to paint bald heads of cancer patients with a message of hope, or paint belly bumps with a message of happiness

Beyond giving the artist a sense of fulfillment, Alicia believes that the one who carries the ink inadvertently is a medium of meaningful expression too. Be it kids who adorn the hero’s persona for the moment to fight an imaginary villain, or fluttering like butterflies that are naturally designed to be free in the open, Alicia believes that these illustrations give kids something to relate to from a young age. Adults, on other hand, surpass the childish needs of associating with characters. According to Alicia, the paintings don’t just add to their physical expression, but also highlight value systems and national pride.

“Adults sporting their (painted) country flag represent their country’s beliefs and visions. For instance, I did an India-Pakistan Face paint project for a radio team, and then for a club night during the Indian and Pakistan Independence Day weekend. Combining the two flags which have been painted on the skins of two different nationalities gives rise to the idea of friendship, unity and a reason to celebrate the notion of being one.”
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The body art for a cricket match and another to mark Independence Days of Pakistan & India depicts that art can convey the message of competitive spirit and unity
For someone entrusted with lifting spirits through memorable creativity, seeking inspiration at times can become a daunting task. An artist’s life can be blessed with abundant inspiration while at the same time be rife with patches of listlessness. To Alicia, however, something as inanimate as a blank TV screen to a piece of fabric poses as inspiration for different concepts, designs, patterns, and illustrations.

Art reminds us of basic principles – self-expression, observation, peace, happiness, and hard work

With limitless inspiration from nature and the environment, there’s little doubt that the imagination of the audience tests the artist’s boundaries too. I asked Alicia to recollect the whackiest face-painting request ever made. Her response is a reminder for all to be prepared with inspiration beyond skies, lilies, and the safe, beautiful sunset.
“I was once asked to paint an eyeball on someone’s forehead at a club (adults only). It was quite funny because he probably wouldn’t remember it the next day.”
Whether he remembered not, others may have remembered him as the one carrying a message from Illuminati at a night club. Along with learning that the best response to weird requests is raising the brush instead of eyebrows, Alicia preaches that possibilities in art are limitless, and so is learning and improving in the professional arena of face-painting –
“There are no boundaries when it comes to art. For example, people like to express their current battles through face painting. People like to paint bald heads of cancer patients with a message of hope, or paint belly bumps with a message of happiness, anxiety and hope for the future. There is a lot of scope for creative expression on the human canvas, and I feel that this concept has still not surfaced in the UAE.
Face-painting helps me to put my eye for detail to actual use. It has taught me to be so much more patient because unlike on paper, I cannot use an eraser to rub out mistakes. Face painting allows me to venture into the unknown- new concepts, ideas, people, faces, personalities, interests and disinterests…I am amazed by how differently each person is created.”
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When fictitious characters fail to create illusions, art does the job

Despite staring at a creative gap that her skills can fill, Alicia is cautious about viewing face-painting as a full-time career option in the UAE. Her aim is to pursue a professional course in movie makeup, special effects, and facial & dental prosthetics with the hope of venturing into the film industry, and bring the concept of body art in film & theatre to Dubai on a larger scale.

As is for an artist of every kind and in any part of the world, future may hold a sense of uncertainty. However, artists were never known to take to prose, poetry, and paintings on the foundations of a business plan. The gratification received is that which is palpable immediately, often in the most rewarding sense of joy and comfort. With the help of an incident, Alicia relates how getting in the right frame of mind is sometimes a brush-stroke away –

“I was once driving for a gig to Abu Dhabi when I ended up being flashed for overspeeding. I was absolutely gutted and felt like the money I was just about to earn was already exhausted in a flash, literally! But painting at the gig turned out to be my escape. It took me two or three people to work on and to forget how much I had gained or lost in the last hour, and just relish the moment.”

An artist’s world often sees passion substituted for pennies, love in place of luxuries and dreams conjured instead of a destination. In the hustle of a commercial hub called Dubai, there’s much room for artistic exploration, as depicted by Alicia’s journey. With a world marked with differences, boundaries, fractured relations and diseased hearts, the brush of an artist can help replace vicious vices with the much desired vibrant voices through vivid art.

Reflecting on her journey so far, Alicia believes that art can put the explorer in a unique position to not just experience contentment, but also set out on a path to making the world a better place. In a world struggling to reconcile differences and bring people together, perhaps this message paints a smile of hope, optimism and resolute belief-

“Art reminds us of basic principles – self-expression, observation, peace, happiness, and hard work. As an artist, I sometimes find myself in a position where people look at my work with a sense of amazement. But what I wish to respond with is – what makes you amazing and unique? I feel blessed and lucky to have found my calling at an early age, but I also feel that each one of us is blessed with a unique talent that sets us apart from the rest.

I have learnt this through art and meeting different people. What might appeal to one person, might be detested by another. I feel the courage to pursue what you love, unity through art, and banishing animosity and jealousy with the help of art can make this world a better place, if not at least a different one.”

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