Rowi Singh first ventured into make-up because she was broke. She was still at university in Sydney, Australia, and had wanted to pursue a career in fashion but realised make-up was the more economical option. “You can buy just one palette and create 50 looks,” says the 26-year-old, almost incredulously, over Zoom.
Pushing the boundaries of beauty with her bold, rainbow-infused looks inspired by her South Asian heritage, it wasn’t long before she built up a cult following online. Since then, Singh has worked with brands such as Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty and Anastasia Beverly Hills, and pushes a strong message of inclusivity via her recently established Instagram account, The Artist Archives.
Currently working on a jewellery line, and with dreams of turning her attention to cosmetics, we caught up with the rising make-up artist about meeting Rihanna and reconnecting with her roots.
What was life like for you growing up?
“I was born and raised in Sydney, but I moved to the US when I was five or six. I lived in Connecticut for three years and after that I lived in Singapore. Then I came back home and finished high school in Sydney.”
And how does make-up fit into all of this?
“My high-school experience didn’t afford me the opportunity to be creative in the way that I wanted. I had all of this bubbling creativity at university and I channelled it through make-up. I wanted to go into styling originally, but I was a student and didn’t have any money so I was like, ‘OK, I’ll go into make-up!’”
How did you turn a passion project into a career?
“I had a constant flow of inspiration and even now, everything is still flowing. I did the whole university thing and got a full-time, nine-to-five job at a big agency, but I was doing make-up at the same time, building up both my skills and my social platform. I got to the point where I was like, ‘I think I want to do this full-time and see where it takes me.’”
Beyond merely dressing the face, what is it that make-up does for you emotionally?
“It was through art and make-up that I was able to discover myself a bit better. I moved around so much as a kid, so I had a fragmented idea of myself. I’m Indian—north Indian Punjabi—but I never really had a connection to my culture because I didn’t have the space to connect with it. I was so focused on adapting to my surroundings in order to fit in. It was my survival mechanism.
“So, when I came back to Sydney, I was able to reconnect with aspects of my culture through my art. I spoke to my grandparents about how rich and beautiful my culture was—before, I would suppress it so many times in high school and growing up. There was this thing that if you were brown, you just weren’t cool, and that was hovering over me. Then I became obsessed with every aspect of being an Indian woman. I was able to embrace it visually by pulling aspects of my culture, like crazy adornments, within my looks. My looks can be quite intense, which is the Indian way—lots of bindis and jewels on the face, and heavy jewellery.”
What was your first big break?
“Something that is really cool and that I never thought would happen to me was when I met Rihanna at a Fenty Beauty party in Los Angeles. In terms of my achievements, I’m releasing a jewellery collection of bold statement pieces with one of my favourite brands on 31 May. Again, it speaks to all the things I love and my heritage. I’m really excited that something that I designed and have been working on for a year, almost two years, is finally coming to fruition.”
Where do you get your inspiration from?
“Anything can be a look. Sometimes I’ll be sitting on a train and looking at the pattern on the seat cover and think, ‘Oh, that’d be so cool. I could do a blue and orange splotch.’ To other people it might be drab, but that’s what fuels me. It allows me to be creative in a completely new and different way.”
How much does beauty, or rather the idea of beauty, define your aesthetic?
“Make-up, for me, is about experimentation and creating art. I’ll be adding it to my face and I’ll do something crazy. It’s not conventionally pretty, but it makes me feel beautiful because I feel confident; I can wear it with pride. It’s the beauty of the art rather than making me feel prettier because I feel like I need it. It’s more of an add-on and a source of expression. That’s the beauty aspect of it for me.”
Your looks are bright and bold—are they just for Instagram or do you like to wear them?
“I like to wear my looks out because it’s cool and fun, and it’s a bit of a waste if I’m just sitting at home [wearing them]. Sometimes I’ll be on public transport and people will stare at me. Sometimes I can’t be bothered and I’ll just do a skin tint.”
What is it you want to communicate with your art?
“I want to be able to share the joy that I feel when I splash myself with whatever make-up look I want. I want people to take away that they can be themselves — they can be loud, proud and bold. Everyone has their own purpose and everyone’s beautifully unique. Beauty trends come and go, and we try to fit ourselves into these trends and stay on the pulse, but at the end of the day, just do you. If I can share that with my audience and other people, I think I’ve done my job.”
How would you like your career to evolve?
“I’m at a turning point where I want to go into product service and evolve myself a little more. I want to see how I can use my expertise and apply it to something greater for my audience.”
What about the industry at large—what changes would you like to see?
“We’ve got far to go in terms of diversity, especially in Australia. I want to see more representation of Black, brown and Indigenous people, and more people embracing the fun and creativity of make-up.”
What does beauty mean to you?
“To me, beauty is feeling happy and comfortable in your own skin.”