Afro Poetry Times

Changing narrative beauty and brains...


Mbali Sebokedi is capturing the local literature scene through her beauty.

The 25-year-old matches books she’s reviewing to her make-up in her Books as Lewks series.

From intricate make-up for books such as Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi to bold eyeshadow looks for Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta, she nails it every time.

“#booksaslew­ks came about during the lockdown. There was a challenge ‘books as outfits’ and because my clothes are basically one colour, I decided to do my make-up and it just picked up and expanded from there,” said Sebokedi.

Sebokedi, who has a passion for reading and analysing text, is a master’s student at the University of Pretoria.

“My love for reading was first nurtured by my parents and then by me when I decided to pursue a degree in literature. I now have a BA English, BA Hons literary theory and I am currently completing my MA literary theory at the University of Pretoria,” she said.

Sebokedi, who hails from Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape, said the series has helped her deal with the stress and anxiety of the lockdown period.

“Reading these books and creating these looks helped produce a sense of stability because I had somewhat of a schedule going on.

“It was a time where I was mentally exhausted and picking up leisurely reading again felt like a breath of fresh air.

“Sitting down and doing my make-up, which is something I oddly picked up during my honours year, also helped with my creativity and boredness; I mean there ’ s only that much Netflix one can watch,” she said.

She said since starting Books as Lewks, her Instagram account grew from 1,000 followers to more than 5,000 followers, a huge feat in the local bookstagra­mming community.

Sebokedi said her work challenges the outdated view that beauty and brains are not synonymous.

“The belief that women need to prove that they have brains if they’re beautiful and vice versa is outdated. Funnily enough, my main reason behind using beauty as a tool was to show that reading can be anything you want it to be.

“I wanted to show it can be fun, and make-up was the only way I could express that. But, I also needed something that would peak non-readers’ interests and it seems to be working,” she said.

In future she wants to have a YouTube channel or podcast promoting reading and helping local libraries to reach more readers.

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