Indra Is The Queer Artist Pioneering a New Frontier of Genderless Beauty
Meet Indra Budiman. A non-binary artist living in Brooklyn, Indra uses their own face as a canvas for their art. By painting lines, smudges, circles, and extra eyes on their cheeks and forehead, Indra creates striking and visceral artwork in partnership with the human body. Their mood becomes their art, and their daily surroundings their gallery. “I look at my face and think of what being I want to embody that day, what power I’m trying to summon to my body.” Indra has a strong sense of who they are and is carving out new definitions of beauty, gender and art. In collaboration with Milk and photographer Jasper Soloff, Indra gives us their work and their story.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Indrasari Budiman, I was born in Indonesia, I love the sun & how it makes me feel more than anything, I’m a Capricorn with the hands & round face of a Pisces rising, I have a big black cat named Tuxedo Mask, I have so much faith in the youth & this collective energy that’s igniting for change. I believe that discomfort is the root of all change, I’m interested in the ways humans can align themselves with nature once again. I would die for any & all of my friends, I’m not afraid of death.
How would you explain your art to someone who has never seen it before?
The way I make art is very spontaneous, very visceral. I look at my face & think of what being I want to embody that day, what power I’m trying to summon to my body. I guess I could describe my art as ethereal, I make myself seem not of this earth, I smear black & red pigment on my face, draw circles & extra eyes on my cheeks & forehead. Applying makeup, for me, is a meditative process, every day I sit in front of my mirror & surprise myself. Every new look is a testament to my own growth, how I see myself & the power I want to manifest.
How did you start?
I’ve been watching YouTube makeup tutorials since I was in middle school, but I never really followed the conventional path of makeup. A few years ago I started doing more non traditional looks by using lipstick as eyeliner & etc., now I’m at the point where anything goes. I only recently started doing more wild looks after having the realization that nothing is all that serious, I have the liberty to look any way I want to, I live in New York, I have the most supportive friends, I can do anything.
When did you feel people started to notice your work?
This one clip I posted on Instagram randomly got so many views, like over 80k views in a few days, I think it ended up on a bunch of explore feeds or something. It was a video of myself walking to the train before a shoot & I looked like a demon straight out of a Japanese horror film. After that people started following me—the momentum started there & kept building since. People seem to be very interested in my style of expression, they’re intrigued by it. When I do shoots with other artists, like all the shoots I’ve done with Mateus Porto, they have garnered a lot of attention. Those photos even caught the attention of Erykah Badu, who followed me on Christmas.
From where do you get inspiration?
I get the most inspiration from my friends. They are literally the most supportive pillars in my life, they gas me up & always push me to do & feel my best. I’m inspired by all of the brave queer people of color in my life, too, how fearless & undeniably powerful every single one of them are. I’m so lucky to be able to say that all the people I look up to are my friends, for the art they make, their music, their designs & clothes, all of it. I’m inspired by my dear friend Hazkel, their ruthless femininity & endless creativity honestly make me so emotional! All of my friends survive in the most beautiful ways, in ways that make it possible to believe that soon we won’t just survive. We uplift each other always & I wouldn’t be able to do half the things I do without their support. I’m in love with all of my friends!!
I’m also inspired by my grandmother, who taught me that essentially without kindness we are all dead. She taught me to respect all living things, & her philosophy gives me the power to live my fullest life, without fear.
I’m inspired by all of the brave queer people of color in my life, how fearless & undeniably powerful every single one of them are.
I understand you’re in law school, how do you balance work and art? Do they ever conflict?
I actually recently decided that I’m no longer pursuing a degree in law. For the longest time I wanted to become an immigration lawyer & fight for those without rights especially in light of recent political action. I thought about it a lot & got really heated because humans should already have rights without needing a fight, or a thousand dollar lawsuit for that matter. I realize that the system will always be flawed because it was literally built by & for rich white men, & I will never be that, nor will I support that. As much as I want to do good, I don’t find that much good will be done in contributing to a permanently faulty system. There’s no fixing the system, there’s only burning it all down & rebuilding it with a focus in empathy, in TRUE equality. Taking some time off school will give me some freedom without the weight of academic pressure, I think it’ll be good to clear my head, focus on my art & my community, on giving back by doing more volunteer work & collaborating with my friends, other artists, people of other communities. With this new clarity, my heart is open.
These photos you’ve included are incredible. Can you tell us a bit more about the inspirations behind the look you created?
The makeup is inspired by traditional Chinese opera masks, the process of symbolic face painting, or bian lian. I used exclusively red, white & black in this look because each color holds a specific meaning. Red is my favorite color, & when painted on the face, it’s meant to radiate heroism & a deep sense of loyalty. Black represents integrity, while the white holds something more malicious, almost villainous. The combination of these three colors on my face emanate how I feel, the intersecting lines & circles create a mask of magic. I’m painfully aware to the sufferings of the world & I don’t want to be complicit anymore. I want the paint on my face to read as a threat, like war paint, like the face of somebody that isn’t afraid. This look is dedicated to the revolution in our midst, breaking down white cis patriarchal standards of normalcy, allowing people to be less perturbed & more inspired by self expression. Walking around Central Park while shooting with Jasper, people were sticking their heads out of taxis & screaming at me, asking if I was a witch. Even if I am, does that make you afraid of me? If so, why? People are quick to scream & judge to appear bigger than they are; they would rather stay ignorant than try to accept what they don’t understand. I wear my art on my face so that people can’t deny it, they can’t look away, they can either respect it or fervently hate it, & their instinctual reactions say a lot.
Music you listen to?
FKA twigs, Azealia Banks, Kelela, SZA, Arca, they’re all my gods, obviously!!! I worship them! I never stop listening to LYZZA & Shygirl, Sega Bodega, Yaeji, ABRA. I’m such a big fan of my friends’ music, truthfully my favorite artists are my friends, like Bamban, Nightspace, DoNormaal, Guayaba, & I’ll play lsdxoxo’s DJ sets for hours at a time. I only want to listen to artists that I know are good people, those that make art that reflects the experiences we’ve all been through as queer POC, or lyrics that shed light on experiences I’ve never been through so I can learn. I respect all of these artists because their work is stunning, the kind of music you can see & feel, music that makes life lighter, more fun, beats that you can bop or cry to.
What are the biggest challenges or frustrations you’ve faced as an artist?
To be honest, I live in Bushwick, I go to school & work, I don’t face many challenges in my existence. I’m privileged enough to have this beautiful community of queer POC, I feel bathed in love & with this kind of support I feel unstoppable, untouchable. I’m a light skinned east Asian nonbinary person, I don’t face nearly as much hardships as my black & brown peers, or my trans friends. I get frustrated when I’m out with my friends & people, mostly white straight people, sneak photos of us without our permission, yell at us, try to claim our images because they feel entitled to our bodies. This entitlement angers me the most, & the fact that it’s widespread, that so many people just like me remain silent & can’t live their truths because of this entitlement, this refusal to acknowledge or understand our existences as valid, & the subsequent denial, shaming, even violence that comes from it. I feel frustrated by the lack of resources available to marginalized communities across the nation & world, QPOC that don’t have communities to turn to, it breaks my heart that anyone even remotely similar to me & my friends might ever feel alone or in pain. I know that there are worlds of beauty that we all hold within us, & I’m so lucky, so blessed to be able to share my own truth through my platform with the strength that my friends give me, but I never ever forget about those who aren’t able to do the same, because of societal or political limitations, for the sake of fear of shame & persecution & in some places, death. I want to protect us all!!!
I’m privileged enough to have this beautiful community of queer POC, I feel bathed in love & with this kind of support I feel unstoppable, untouchable.
Are there any new projects you’re working on? I heard you’re working on an art collective.
Yes! The five of us recently started a queer POC art collective called UN. We want to focus all of our energy on making this collective a worldwide network, where people can connect with us & with other sister collectives so that when anyone is in need of a safe space, they can look to UN for a home. Like I said before, nobody should ever feel like they’re alone in the world, & the most important action at this point is to hold space for one another, create open air for discussions in which we can speak about our experiences, both beautiful & painful, freely, without feeling unimportant or silenced. This is the time of open empathy, & the only way that we’re able to actually protect one another is if we listen to & understand one another, without ego or self interest. We’re all aware of how excruciating, exhausting, soul-eating it can be to exist in this capitalist heteropatriarchal hell of a society, & we want UN to be a relief, a place of healing. The more we focus on cultivating these connections, the more power we will amass, the easier life will be for those after us. UN is a means of investing in the revolution.
We’re currently working on compiling resources, applying for grants, finding good venues to host parties at where friends can come together, dance to sick music, have the most fun in the safest space. Our goal for each event is to ensure that everybody feels not only safe but empowered, bathed in love & free to express themselves in any way that they couldn’t before. In June, the five of us will be touring the US & Canada, making a circle around North America & hitting all the cities, to link up with other communities & collectives & start building the branches of this global network.
Stay tuned to Milk for more rising artists.