Before Erica Prince started facilitating playful, fanciful Transformational Makeovers, the Brooklyn-based multimedia artist considered herself a maker of inanimate objects and images. "It took me a long time to realize that this could be part of my art practice," she tells The Creators Project. "I used to give friends makeovers, and I was amazed at how affected they were by the results, how shocked they were and how they would suddenly act differently when they saw themselves in a new light. That was when I realized that there was something powerful at play."
Prince began experimenting with colorful cosmetics and warm flesh, immersing herself in her subjects' psyches to gain perspective on the self. Though inherently positive, her makeovers aren't about beauty. "I wanted to develop a project that felt generous and acknowledged the participant's humanity a little more. I wondered if I could bring people's guards down by including them more overtly, by spending time with them, listening, looking, and fussing over them," she says.
Unlike traditional printed, carved, painted, or sculpted works, Prince's makeovers are inherently ephemeral. Aside from selfie documentation, the art disappears with the swipe of a washcloth. According to the artist, that's just fine. "There is less at stake because it is temporary, therefore, people are more open to experimentation," Prince explains. "I have to respond on the spot, to new faces and new energies, and that keeps me present. I am making an ephemeral, intuitive, and reactionary drawing or painting, it just happens to be on someone's face."
Aside from its transience, getting her practice taken seriously by the art world presented a challenge in itself. "I was nervous when I started the project, that it would be written off as indulgent, girlish, and superficial. I had never seen makeup and makeovers taken seriously in an art context, and I presented everything with an unapologetically feminine aesthetic, so I wondered if people would get stuck there, or if they would be willing to dig deeper," Prince says.
But transformation and fluidity of identity are timely topics, and Prince found that many of her subjects were open to journeys of self-discovery. "The first participants were very brave; they had no idea what they were getting into. The audience for the project was primarily female, which made me realize I had tapped into something in the female experience, something people were craving," she says.
By exploring personal experiences with her subjects, Prince tapped into ways that individual anecdotes carry universal relevance. "And then there is the issue of gender," she says. "It seems that there are a lot of people that are eager to re-evaluate and explore gender right now." By taking the Transformational Makeovers, and the experiences of her subjects, seriously, it seems the art world followed suit. Prince is stationed in Miami this week, transforming visitors throughout the PULSE Contemporary Art Fair.
During the annual art world bacchanal, amidst tanned, toned Miami bodies, the opportunity to become someone or something else, if only for a moment, is a welcome respite. "Outward transformation is not the goal of the project. The goal is to affect people's psychology, and makeup is just a tool to do so," Prince says. "The participant's internal transformation is what is important, both during their makeover and afterwards—that lasting sense of awareness, confusion and re-evaluation that I hope is there long after the makeup has been removed. That's the real product of the project."
To visit Erica Prince in Miami and learn more about PULSE Contemporary Art Fair, click here.