New East Digital Archive

The Russian makeup artists using beauty as a tool for radical transformation

30 March 2021

In recent years, makeup has evolved to become a cutting-edge form of creative expression. Coloured pigments and eyeliner are no longer about fitting in with mainstream beauty norms, but embracing new looks and personalities that can be both artistic, intellectual, and shamelessly fun. Instagram, TikTok, and other social networks have also made makeup’s creative avant-garde truly global — and Russian voices are on the rise. From drag performers to teenage rulebreakers, here are the Russian artists using makeup to tell their stories.

The work of Alisa Xvalevsky has a mesmerising futuristic look, where state-of-the-art eyeliner adorns glossy eyelids to create a vision of the technologically-enhanced humans of tomorrow. Semi-transparent, shiny, and slimy textures are all Xvalevsky’s trademarks, paired with subtle hues of colour. The artist has also recently ventured into painting and sculpture — but whatever the canvas, Xvalevsky focuses first and foremost on taking her viewers into enchanted territory.

Gena Marvin has been evolving as a drag artist for several years. Recently, his artistry has shifted from experimental, gender-bending beauty looks to full-blown otherworldly performance art. Gena’s personas include aliens, demons, monsters and other creatures yet to walk the earth. They’re sometimes unsettling, sometimes surprising, but always complete with pristine transformative makeup work.

Sofya Atalikova (or Kristallikova) is a Moscow-based makeup artist and video director. In the world of beauty, her signature look is the use of bold colours in precise patterns, ranging in inspiration from ancient art and futurism to tribal tattoos and racing car bodywork. Atalikova is also committed to body positivity and diversity through celebrating different faces the way they are, including the marks, scars, and spots we usually regard as flaws.

At just 17-years-old, Moscow-based Yury Belyavsky is one of the youngest creative talents on the Russian makeup scene. His work is playful, trippy, cheeky, and sometimes downright confusing. Using prosthetics and digital distortions, Belyavsky turns his subjects into real-life cartoon characters — while still leaving plenty of space for models to also be themselves.

Makeup artist and beauty brand founder Sergey Naumov is convinced that beauty is not only about products and skills, but also self-love, self-expression, and freedom. Although Russian society still largely frowns on men using makeup, Naumov not only does makeovers on himself, but also casts models of various gender identities in his brand’s campaigns to create a more inclusive and emancipated idea of beauty.

Ira Gracheva’s beauty style is constantly changing and evolving: from orbs of bright, powdery colour to eyeliner that snakes like rivers on a map. No two looks are ever the same, and each reflects the artist’s search for new bold aesthetics.

An experienced beauty editor and makeup artist, Masha Vorslav is also a founder of Dragzina, a publication and platform dedicated to Russia’s burgeoning drag culture. Frequently dipping into drag herself, Vorslav uses beauty as a way to talk about gender expression, queerness, body positivity, and the LGBTQ+ community — with just the right dose of camp, colour, and glitter.

Suki San’s world is sexy, fun, and dark: think Paris Hilton meets David Lynch in the night streets of Moscow. Using bold colours, stickers, and 2000s-style graphics, San tells strange quirky stories in which makeup is only ever one of the elements. This hybrid storytelling is Gen Z beauty at its finest — how did we ever use makeup for anything else?