BENGALURU: This is the month to celebrate that vast expanse of hair over the upper lip. It’s Movember, when outrageous moustaches parade the streets for a cause. Nothing new in this part of the country where masculinity is intrinsically woven with the presence of that strip of hair or the lack thereof. For those in the dark, growing out one’s facial hair in November is called Movember or No Shave November, with the noble purpose of raising awareness about men’s health issues, particularly cancer. This would obviously raise eyebrows and thus would begin a conversation around the why and how, which is the entire idea ultimately.
While some stare incredulously, mouth agape, at this display of upper lip hair and others strut around like fashion statements, the world of art bats no eyelids, for we have seen it all from time immemorial. Notorious moustaches and beards have always fascinated artists.
The artist who first comes to mind at the mention of the word moustache is undoubtedly Salvador Dali. The surrealist artist was known for his waxed moustache which was styled into two upward pointing curves, sometimes with a flower adorning the tips! Can’t get any weirder than that, can it? The artist has even co-authored a book titled Dali’s Moustache, which features several absurd portraits of his famous moustache like the image with his upper lip hair shaped like a dollar sign to announce to the world that he had no qualms about his financial success. Extraordinarily, his moustache did not fade into oblivion after his death in 1989. When his body was exhumed to settle a paternity case in 2017, his iconic moustache was miraculously found intact in its classic shape of ten past ten.
Women in art have their share of moustache histories too. Frida Kahlo, the renowned Mexican artist (1907- 1954), proudly presented herself in all her self portraits as a moustachioed woman. Refusing to succumb to social norms of women having to hide facial hair, she even went to the extent of exaggerating it in her paintings. She sought to not just portray her reality but to embrace it. Some of the world’s most famous paintings have an astounding array of moustache styles that can make any Movember participant pale in comparison.
A 16th century oil portrait of Vlad III, whose cruel and bloodthirsty acts inspired the fictional character, Count Dracula, shows him with a thick caterpillar moustache. Leonardo da Vinci’s voluminous beard, shown in his self portraits, matched the brilliance of his mind. Edvard Munch, the creator of the famed painting ‘Scream’, wore a pencil moustache. Peter Paul Rubens, the Flemish artist from the 16th century showed off a handlebar styled moustache even back then. Goatee, Handlebar, French Fork, Double moustache, Walrus style, Moustache and Chin Puff Combo, Mutton Chops beard — the art world is truly an encyclopaedia on facial grooming.
There is a style for every season lurking within artworks, old and new. So this Movember, don a Dali or sport a Gauguin and make heads turn to espouse your cause.