Artist and model Zeeshan Ali takes gender out of fashion to create bold looks that make you do a double take
Twenty-four-year-old Zeeshan Ali realised early on that he was different. Born and raised in Mumbai, he was a smart child who started studying medicine at Grant Medical College. Today, however, you may know him for a different reason. He's a model, designer, and a self-taught make-up artist — one who is redefining gender roles through his androgynous body art.
As you scroll through his Instagram account (@zeesh.ali), you'll first be awed by the flamboyance that greets you. Ali's face appears in every photograph, but unlike the flood of selfies that usually plague the social media platform, these pictures are different. In one, he's a mythical deity, painted teal and dressed in elaborate garb, and in another, he's an "alien fly" in bright pinks and greens.
The common factor across all the frames, apart from Ali's face, is that they are all devoid of gender. "I'm creating art, and art doesn't have gender. I'm very fluid even in daily life, and that translates into the looks I create," Ali tells us over a phone call from Bengaluru, where he is currently based.
A closer look will reveal the work that goes into creating each look. Not only does Ali conceptualise and style his characters, he also builds the costume and does his own make-up. Then, he takes his own pictures using the timer function on his smartphone camera.
In a video recently shot by online youth content-based portal, 101 India, Ali talks about how his love affair with fashion and make-up began. "Medicine was too dull and serious for my liking. And, four years ago, when I moved to Bengaluru, I realised I wanted to study fashion. It was a huge gamble, but it paid off. It was here that I did my first androgynous shoot. I started creating my own looks a year ago," he says, adding that he plans to return to Mumbai, now that he has completed his course.
In the video, Ali explains how he takes inspiration from daily life. He loves street shopping, and you can spot him at roadside shops, rummaging through fabrics and objects like cane baskets. These everyday objects are later put together to create his eye-catching looks.
Ali shares that his parents are supportive of his choices. "I used to be scared of my father, but he was the one I first confided in, that too a year after making the switch. And the way he reacted was beautiful. He said, 'If it makes you happy, go ahead and do it.' Then, he explained it all to mum," he recalls.
He adds, "We have both energies, masculine and feminine, within us. It's about exploring yourself and being open to what you find."
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