Umber Ghauri is making a name for herself as an activist makeup artist — and if there wasn’t such a thing, there is now. The talented 26-year-old has already worked with many queer, trailblazing people of color, including Black Lives Matter cofounder Patrisse Cullors; multigendered American rapper and poet Mykki Blanco; and English gender-nonconforming trans activist, writer, and artist Travis Alabanza. It’s a path Ghauri chose consciously, after a bit of soul searching.
“That’s kind of an example of my niche,” she says, “working with people who are feminist, who are activists, who [need] services like makeup… And there’s a lot of them doing really well, so there’s a clientele.”
Surprisingly, Ghauri wasn’t always so confident about going into a creative field. She explains that she once struggled with “a kind of internalized xenophobia thing,” feeling as though academia was the only way to prove herself as a person of color growing up in West London. Ghauri says eventually, through “investigating feminism,” she realized she was able to have more power and impact in the world by doing what she truly loves.
Ghauri admits with a laugh that she would tell herself, “You should be doing something for smart people. But I didn’t like it. I love art!”
Struggling with career direction certainly isn’t the only challenge that Ghauri has had to deal with in her young life. She recently came out as disabled in a video campaign for bathroom mobility specialists, Bathing Solutions (BathingSolutions.co.uk). Along with comedian Laurence Clark and musician John Kelly, Ghauri shared her personal story and discussed her relationship with the “disabled” label.
She admits it has taken half her life to not just come to terms with being disabled, but to own it and be proud. Ghauri — who has multiple diagnoses including pernicious anemia, endometriosis, and a severe form of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) — says having non-visual disabilities made this journey even more difficult.
“I couldn’t express it verbally,” Ghauri recalls. “I didn’t know I could use the word ‘disabled,’ so I just felt like the only words I could use were ‘tired,’ ‘can’t,’ and like, really negative things. So I just kept my mouth shut. I would just hide away. And then when I would have energy, I would be all the way out there, and everyone would be like, ‘You seem absolutely fine.’ So, that was hard.” These days, Ghauri says she is “not ashamed to say about 80 percent of what I rely on to help me [with pain and fatigue] is medication. But the other 20 percent is really about scheduling and time management and just being good to myself.”
In fact, she stresses that self-care is vital for disabled folks, who should never feel guilty about doing so.
“You’re more important than that. You’re all you have at the end of the day. And even if it’s just doing your nails, putting your face mask on… you deserve that 10 minutes. You deserve that hour. It’s nothing really.”
Ghauri seems to carry this unapologetically positive attitude into all aspects of her identity. We muse at her simple racial/ethnic description of herself in the campaign video as “brown, because I am.”
“But I always say ‘because I am.’ I’m queer because I am, I’m disabled because I am, I guess it’s all just because I am.”