talks & debates

Beauty: It’s a Shady Business

Part of Africa Utopia

Join us for a close-up discussion on beauty featuring Candice Carty-Williams, Nao, Funmi Fetto and Ray BLK. Chaired by Clara Amfo.

‘She did what girls generally do when they don't feel the part: she dressed it instead,’ said Zadie Smith in her 2005 novel, On Beauty.

In a time of an expanding palette of make-up shades and black-owned beauty brands, what do the highlights and contours of our faces say about those of our being? How do we navigate skin bleaching, fetishisation and colourism?

From the full coverage-flawless to the natural and near-naked: what does it mean to be best face forward?

Starting her radio carer at KISS FM and BBC Radio 1XTRA, Clara Amfo is best known for her 10am – 1pm BBC Radio 1 show. Its world famous Live Lounge slot has seen her interview the world’s most prolific artists, including Jay-Z, Ariana Grande, Kendrick Lamar and Pharrell Williams. A keen writer, Clara is also a contributing editor to Elle UK.

A lover of film and TV, Clara has also provided coverage for The BRIT Awards, BAFTA, Glastonbury and Top of the Pops, as well as hosting the premieres for Baby Driver, Aladdin, Black Panther and Disney’s recent remake of The Lion King.

Born Neo Jessica Joshua, Nao is the youngest of five in a Jamaican household. Living on the cusp of the capital, in South Woodford, in the early 200s allowed her to explore garage, grime and two-step from nearby Tower Hamlets and Hackney, however she ‘was always drawn towards turning left (towards London) rather than right,’ Nao recalls. Nao is a singer-songwriter and record producer with a combined sound of electronic music, funk and R&B, leading her to coin her own style as ‘wonky funk’.

Candice Carty-Williams is an author and the Sunday Times bestselling author of Queenie – a book described as ‘disarmingly honest’, ‘boldly political’, and ‘truly inclusive’. In 2016, Carty-Williams created and launched the Guardian and 4th Estate BAME Short Story Prize, the first inclusive initiative of its kind in book publishing. As a journalist she has written for publications including BEAT Magazine, Black Ballad and The Guardian.

Award-winning music artist Ray BLK, real name Rita Ekwere, is a 26-year-old south Londoner. She released a mixtape called Miss Havisham in 2015, which led to a BBC Music Sound of 2017 win. Her project Empress is bursting with love. The name, Ray BLK says, is an ode to black girls glorifying their inner ‘black girl magic’ in an industry that doesn’t always allow for that. ‘I want women to see themselves as queens,’ she says.

Funmi Fetto is Executive Editor and Beauty Director at Glamour, a columnist for The Observer and a former beauty editor at British Vogue where she also wrote a beauty column aimed at women of colour. In her 20 years’ experience as a fashion and beauty journalist, she has written for numerous publications including The Sunday Times, Harper’s Bazaar, and the The Guardian, and has worked with a variety of beauty brands.

This event is presented in association with IndabaX.

Being “camera ready” is a regular requirement in my job and over the years I’ve developed a real curiosity with the beauty industry and its attitude towards black women, what we want and what’s actually made available to us. All the women on this panel have a connection to the beauty industry both personally and professionally, so I’m really looking forward to this conversation.
Clara Amfo

Dates & times

This event has passed.


Purcell Room


Booking fee: £3.50 (Members £0.00)


25% off (limited availability)
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Age recommendation
For ages 14+

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Multi-buy discount
Book two or more of the following Africa Utopia talks in the same transaction and receive a 20% discount:
Sport: The Power and Price of Protest
Fashion: The Battle Continues
History: Memory and Consciousness
Beauty: It’s a Shady Business
The Black Film Renaissance
The Music that Made Us
Find out more

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