"From queen Nefertiti and Kyoto geishas, to Amy Winehouse and present-day influencers, this edifying work uncovers culture and connections between power and beauty through the filter of eyeliner."
Using beauty icon eyeliner as a lens through which to examine history and cultures across continents and through time, Zahra Hankir’s Eyeliner: A Cultural History is inventive in concept, and illuminating and entertaining in delivery. As arresting as the most perfectly applied eyeliner, it’ll make a gratifying gift for connoisseurs of cosmetics who also have an interest in anthropological topics.
Eyeliner is also engagingly suffused in personal experience, as Lebanese Hankir shares stories of “wishing I could look like the blond white girls who stared back at me from the glossy pages”, until she encountered “Queen Nefertiti — my queen — for the first time.” This set the author on a journey of discovery as she “started to encounter Nefertiti everywhere”, and came to the realisation that “to wear eyeliner and learn about its origins is to bring not only ourselves, but also some of the world’s most fascinating cultures, into focus.”
To this end, Eyeliner shares utterly fascinating history from Ancient Egypt, where wearing kohl was used as a means of securing protection from Horus and Ra, and where the root of the word for “make-up palette” means “to protect.” Nefertiti’s influence is followed from her origins through to her influence across centuries, with a pertinent discussion of the politics around who has the right to claim Nefertiti as their own, and global struggles over imperialistic looting, and the rights of countries to have their artefacts returned.
Other cultures covered in detail include nomads of Chad, Japanese geishas, and New York drag queens. We also read inspiring stories of “eye paint as resistance in Iran”.
Combining a wealth of disciplines, Eyeliner had me under its captivating spell from start to finish.