Snapchat calls it a tool that will “turn you and your friends into something new.” Meanwhile, Instagram was in the news for banning a quarter of them over mental health concerns. Welcome to the controversial world of face filters—from toxic superimpositions to Snapchat dysmorphia, you’re bound to keep arguing in circles without a permanent solution to the issues at hand.
But what if you could impeach the tyranny of beauty standards on such filters altogether, instead de-dramatising beauty to make it accessible for everyone? Enter HUH, an experimental digital collaboration platform, with its fifth collaboration—bringing together two boundary-pushing beauty creators to combine their IRL and URL talents to create a 3D makeup face filter that explores an unconventional side of beauty rooted in whimsical fantasies.
Featuring Madrona Redhawk, a Las Vegas-based Indigenous makeup and performance artist, and Ines Alpha, a Paris-based 3D makeup and digital creator, the iconic partnership builds under the guiding mood of ‘otherworldliness’ with an oceanic design vision. The face filter, dubbed ‘Otherworldly’, combines cool tones and geometric makeup designs with fluid, 3D iridescent shapes to imagine how humans would look in a dimension without norms and genders—resulting in a virtual realm with total aesthetic freedom.
“Otherworldly literally means ‘from another world’ or even ‘out of this world’—the world that we know, the earth, the humans and the physical space,” Alpha explained when asked to define the mood backing the face filter. The digital creator started by defining her partner’s aesthetics as “out of this world,” something that she has never seen elsewhere. “For me, Madrona embodies what humans from the future or from another dimension could wear daily as makeup or even as skin colour. Imagine makeup or face patterns being made out of bacteria that live on human skin cells.”
According to Alpha, this digital realm is a parallel world that we are only starting to explore—a world where you can create your own reality, defy gravity and even wear textures and materials that are made out of magic. A world with endless possibilities. “Combining Madrona’s face makeup and my digital design as an augmented reality filter bring everyone into the world we’ve imagined. Anyone can be part of it and experiment with a new virtual form,” she added.
As for the visual manifestation of the mood, Redhawk outlined how the filter stemmed from an ‘underwater’ concept—resulting in a palette featuring green, blue and purple. “The final filter screams otherworldly with Ines’ shapes around my makeup and the way they shine and move,” Redhawk said. “I can’t imagine anything physical that could look like that!”
Be it business meetings or 10th grade group projects, collaborative efforts have evidently taken a hit over the pandemic. Partnering with each other 8,000 kilometers apart, how did the two global creatives manage to put generational, cultural, linguistic, and artistic differences aside to create something visual and experiential that melds their unique talents and perspectives together?
“This is something I’m used to as an online creator because of the pandemic so there isn’t a problem,” Redhawk explained. “Especially with a project like this, we discussed a mood and what would work makeup-wise and the rest was done on our own terms with some additional communication.” Alpha continued by stating how the design and communication process was “super fluid and natural”—given how both creators are digital natives on the same wavelength and look up to each other’s work. “I’m so happy to live in an era where people can exchange and collaborate together that easily,” Alpha said. “Being able to meet people from other countries, cultures and backgrounds can only truly create magic.”
So how has both the creators’ ethos aligned under the umbrella term ‘otherworldly’? And how have they imbibed the vision of “a world of total aesthetic freedom” into the design process? Can an artist have total aesthetic freedom even if it’s a collaboration?
“I think that both of our work is already ‘otherworldly’ in the first place so it was easy to align [our ethos],” Redhawk mentioned, adding how Alpha’s filters are a futuristic art form in itself. “The movements, reflections, colours and shapes all blow my mind and are so original.” On Redhawk’s end, the makeup and performance artist has mastered her own brand of abstract makeup with full intensity—having learned to warp her features and do difficult patterns on her face with a natural knack for colour schemes.
When it comes to artistic freedom, Redhawk stated how makeup has few limitations, which is also part of the reason why the creator was drawn to it in the first place. “Full aesthetic freedom isn’t at the forefront of my mind when I’m collaborating with people, especially with Ines whose work I love. The intent was to formulate an idea, theme and a consensus on shapes/colours so that we could create a cohesive and awesome project.”
As for Alpha, the concept of ‘total aesthetic freedom’ means pushing the boundaries of expressing yourself in the society and physical space. In short, “Freedom of creating makeup that you want to wear despite what society tells you and creating something that couldn’t exist on earth.” The digital creator added how this perception opens a portal full of possibilities. At the same time, she believes that one can’t have total freedom in a collaboration. “This is because you need to find a concept that would fit both artists’ aesthetic and a design that would mix well together in terms of colours and shape.”
Melding their distinct mediums, ‘Otherworldly’ therefore brings together the tangible and the intangible—makeup and face filters—to create a fantastical look with the shared idea that beauty is not just one thing, nor is it uniform, but it should always be fun.
Now onto the controversial topic of selfies and face filters fostering “digital colourism” while narrowing beauty standards. Every once in a while you must’ve come across Instagram and Snapchat cracking down on filters that “impact mental health.” Be it ‘Snapchat dysmorphia’ or the entire concept of an ‘Instagram face’—a particular look with a small nose, big eyes and fuller lips—face filters have been the centre of attention with no immediate solution to the problems in sight.
“It’s a tricky subject,” Alpha started when asked about her take on these claims. “On the one hand, I think filters are a symptom of a bigger disease, which is that beauty standards are harder to reach, and closer to the norm of the ‘Instagram face’. On the other hand, filters enable people to feel more beautiful, to express themselves, share their image to the world and to overcome digital public shyness.” However, the creator finds it hard to accept the fact we are replicating and accentuating beauty standards in the digital space—where everyone can have the same ‘perfect’ face. “When you take the filter off, it is very hard not to hate yourself. Body and face dysmorphia are real.”
In contrast to beauty filters, Alpha hopes more creators would follow through and make artistic and funny filters instead—where you can push physical boundaries of expression rather than just being ‘more pretty’. Unfortunately, Alpha highlighted statistics that show people prefer beauty filters, the ones that have now become the ‘digital norm’.
“There’s still a lot of work to do on the foundation of what beauty is,” the creator said, adding the need to “de-dramatise beauty” and make it accessible to everyone. “People also need to understand that beauty is more than just a thin nose, for example. It’s so personal!” At the same time, Alpha is optimistic of an impending wave of change—with tech giants like Snapchat already working on an AI that is able to capture a wide range of skin tones. “Gen Zers are also taking action and talking about it on social media. We can already see more diversity online and offline.
As to everyone ranging from creators and brands to magazines and movies, Alpha urges the need for representation and diversity—of gender, ethnicity, age, skin colour, facial features, body shapes, flaws, scars, asymmetry, pigment spots, wrinkles, disability and more. “Beauty is a business, unfortunately. The more people feel bad about themselves, the more they’ll buy products to fix themselves.” The digital creator is, in turn, trying to be optimistic despite living in a capitalist society, which makes it harder to do so.
“In my personal artistic practice, I’m trying to offer people ways to experience their image differently. I will not hide their face, retouch or distort it to make them fit the beauty standards. I’m more into bringing them into my fantastic, whimsical digital world so they can have fun with themselves and hopefully I can make them feel pretty and confident this way.”
As far as e-makeup goes, Redhawk looks forward to working with Alpha again but the artist revealed she’s not planning on exploring it herself. “I enjoy making physical art, and while I admire digital art, it has never been a conduit I have sought out myself,” she added.
At a time where phone screens double up as mirrors on the wall, the context backing digital retouching and distortion needs to be redefined in the quest for a permanent solution. That being said, this desirable future starts with the creators themselves. So if you are someone looking to follow into Redhawk and Alpha’s footsteps in the unconventional realm or want to live out your whimsical fantasies, you can access the portal to ‘Otherworldly’ on Instagram here.