Is the influence of social media and new technologies negatively shaping our perception of beauty? Stemming from her own personal experience, rooting from a mixed cultural background, Rotterdam-based visual artist Sarah Armani has an ongoing fascination for visual culture. Using photography, film and found footage, Amrani makes you question modern-day society and its beauty standards while investigating female cultural identity and its representation. We sit down and discuss her thoughts on the hyper-reality of artificial beauty, the DIY makeup tutorials, and how these are enforcing young girls to feel they have to portray ‘the perfect version of life’.
To get things going a little, could you tell our readers a bit about yourself? What’s your background?
My name is Sarah Amrani and I am a visual artist based in Rotterdam (The Netherlands). Last year, I graduated from the Art Academy in Rotterdam, from the department of Lifestyle Design and Visual Culture. Since then, I have been working on a couple of exhibitions. I grew up in a small city and moved to Rotterdam after doing an exchange in London during the third year of my studies. I grew to love living in a city where there is always something going on, continuously feeling inspired by different cultures.
What a fascinating hybrid of cultures you have been born into. Have you ever found this difficult growing up at all? Would you say either of the cultures have had more of an impact than the other on your work and you as a person?
Growing up with a mixed cultural and religious background has sometimes been difficult, but it has also definitely enriched me as a person and (perhaps) as an artist. Sometimes, I feel like I do not really ‘belong’ to either one of the cultures. When being in Morocco with my father’s family, I feel at home but at the same time, a stranger. In the Netherlands, this feeling is not as strong – I think that’s because I grew up here.
This personal clash and feeling of being in between two cultures have always fascinated me. But I kept it for myself, it wasn’t something I would talk too much about. It was too personal and maybe, I did not want it to have a big impact on me. But in the end, it has, it is part of me and therefore, also part of my work. I see it as an extra layer that I sometimes use and sometimes not.
I hate to admit that I’ve only ever been to Amsterdam when visiting The Netherlands, but there are many places on my list to visit. What’s your favourite thing about living there?
You should definitely visit Rotterdam next time you are in The Netherlands. It is so different from Amsterdam – very relaxed in comparison. There is a lot of diversity culture-wise, but also in the architecture. It is a really creative city where you can wander around exploring and get inspired by so many different people, styles, etc.
You’re a visual artist – and a very talented one, may I add. Could you give us a quick summary of what is it that you do exactly? What is your manifesto as an artist?
Thank you! I feel like my work is still in progress and not really defined, so I find it difficult to say what I do exactly. And I do not really have a defined manifesto. I’m really enjoying the artistic process I find myself in since I left art school. It is, in a way, rediscovering your own vision. This may sound a bit vague… To be a bit more concrete: I work with different mediums to create, visualise and communicate a narrative or critique. I have an interest in visual culture. I often use photography, film and found footage in researching (female) cultural identity, representation and beauty ideals.
Previously, you have said that “The social condition of people is a recurring theme in my work”. Could you define how you interpret the ‘social condition’ and what you mean by it?
I think it is a little bit vague as well, I would now articulate it in a different way. What I think I actually mean by it is a person’s ‘state of being’ in a social, cultural and visual way. A bigger theme to describe this would be ‘identity’. I am interested in the fluidity of identity, our appearance, and how this is related to cultural heritage, how this all shapes us, and how it isn’t something fixed.
I find your project Terror of Beauty fascinating. I am all about supporting natural beauty and demolishing western narcissism. What was it that inspired you to do this?
After doing a project about hijab and makeup tutorials, I came across videos where young girls would vlog about their cosmetic procedures. They would even film going to the clinic and getting fillers, botox, etc. These were all young, beautiful girls who did this to prevent ageing and to fit in this kind of beauty ideal. In the format of a tutorial/vlog video, it almost felt like an online instruction video on how to preserve or to create beauty.
This got me thinking about the influence of social media and new technologies on beauty standards and how our perception of beauty is shaped: the clash of natural versus artificial and the desire for youth and perfection. I started wondering if this could eventually result in a uniformity of visual appearance. During my research for the project Terror of Beauty, I chose to only focus on the female and to question the possibility of a universal beauty mask that would suggest a beauty standard prototype.
Strategy of Beautification  Installation Shot Iii  2016.jpg
“The female face is becoming more and more of a mask of artificial beauty in which the strategy of cosmetic surgery creates a permanent change and an alienation of the natural face”, you said. I totally agree. Do you think your family history and culture – women wearing hijabs and generally showing very little flesh apart from their face – has influenced this focus on the beauty of the face within this project?
Yes, it was a starting point. I had a personal fascination, but what especially caught my attention were the online hijab tutorial videos in which there is this enormous contrast, visually, between the covered-up hair and the revealed face with extreme makeup. It really got me thinking about the definition of beauty, beauty objects, and how the beautified face could be seen as an object of artificial beauty.
I enjoy the robotic sarcasm of the woman talking in the video. Especially at the end of part two, when she says, “Enhance your beauty, enhance your face and get the new face – new you prototype”. Surely, these words are enough for anyone to stop and think about what we’re all actually doing here, competing in one big game of ‘who’s the most beautiful’. What was the primary message you aimed to achieve when working on this?
I first and foremost wanted to make a reference to the tutorial videos and their style. It was meant to be a bit sarcastic, but not to make fun of these type of videos. Rather, I’m questioning if it isn’t super weird and creepy how these videos are promoting a beauty ideal, a lifestyle of artificial beauty enhancement. My aim was to reflect on what we actually experience when we watch a beauty tutorial and how it is, in a way, an ad for something absurd: creating ‘perfection’. What is perfection after all? And based on what examples or archetypes do we define perfection and beauty? This feeling of absurdity is translated into the video by promoting a speculative facemask to fit the perfect beauty standard.
You clearly have a lot of thoughts on society’s representation, evaluation, and expectation of beauty. These days, younger girls are feeling these pressures: constantly comparing themselves to others, photoshopping photographs, and saving money for surgery. How can we stop this? Do you see it getting worse or better in the future?
I believe it is getting more and more normalised. Doing something to yourself to enhance your beauty has become a lifestyle. Social media isn’t helping, considering that you only see the perfect version of life. You don’t post an ‘ugly’ picture of yourself, and you most definitely use filters. Thinking of this social media influence, I can imagine it getting worse in the future: younger girls getting confronted with beauty ideals based on stereotypes of what is perceived as beautiful. I don’t believe it can be stopped in the digital age we now live in; we all live a virtual life in addition to our ‘offline’ life, and this enforces the need for a hyper-real reality sometimes.
On the other hand, you see a shift where models with ‘imperfections’ are becoming more interesting in fashion, getting more embraced as a new type of beauty. But the normalisation of artificial beauty enhancement is what I am really interested in; it is almost becoming DIY. This is what fascinates me about the beauty tutorials in which you see girls going to a cosmetic surgeon: it almost feels like an instruction video, so you know how to do it all by yourself.
Speaking of the future, where do you see yourself in it? Are you currently working on any projects?
A couple of months ago, I had a group exhibition in Maastricht, at the Waterhouse Gallery. I was showing my project Terror of Beauty together with some new video work. In the nearby future (as in this year), I am hoping to do an artist residency in Morocco, so I am currently writing a project proposal. I am continuing with the themes of beauty ideals and my own cultural background. Besides this, at the moment, I am experimenting with ceramics and (digital) collaging to create an archive of materials and footage I can work with for upcoming projects. 
Out of all your many fascinating projects, do you have a favourite and why?
That would be Strategy of Beautification. I love the moving images of the hijab and face cut-outs. I am planning on expanding this body of work, where I focus on the face and the hijab as objects of beauty – I loved doing research about the hijab as a visual object to express beauty. It is interesting to see how it is getting more accepted and more visible in fashion – runway models wearing it, Nike launching a sports hijab, etc. Diversity is being embraced more and more.
Besides showing the different hijab styles in a fashionable way, almost all of these hijab vloggers are extreme makeup pros. The hair is covered and with the hijab framing the face, combined with the extreme amount of makeup, all focus shifts to the face. Visually, I find this relation super fascinating. It puts a different light on a piece of clothing that has a cultural, religious and historic layered meaning. It focuses more on the relationship between women and their hijab as an extension of their identity and style.
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Strategy of Beautification   Installation Shot I  2016.jpg
Strategy of Beautification   Installation Shot Ii 2016.jpg
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Strategy of Beautification  Hijab and Face Cut out 2016.jpg
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Terror of Beauty  Beauty Score Analysis  Filmstill  2017.jpg
Terror of Beauty  Filmstill 2017.jpg