Skin Story: Alaina Gibbs, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

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You’ve probably never looked at art the way Alaina Gibbs does. That’s not the sort of thing you do when you’re young and a framed poster from Urban Outfitters is your idea of contemporary still life.

So Alaina is a bit of a rarity: twenty-something, Black, and able to cite Glenn Ligon and the erasure of history without batting an eye. She’s studied art since high school—a graduation requirement that led to two art degrees, first at Wesleyan and then at the University of Southern California.

Each morning before she begins her daily walk (yes, walk) to work, she cleanses her face with a tea tree wash from Trader Joe’s and moisturizes with Ambi Even & Clear. Her nights are fairly similar save for the few times a week she adds sugar to the tea tree wash, tones her face with rose water, and on especially dry nights, breaks a vitamin E capsule to soothe her skin.

You probably have heard of Birchbox and Amazon.com, where the former introduced Alaina to EmbryoLisse’s Lait-Crème Concentrè, a rich moisturizer; while the latter introduced her to Avon Face Perfector, a primer Alaina wears under her makeup when the temperature drops.

And speaking of makeup, Alaina is a MAC fan, counting their gel primer, concealer, Studio Fix Foundation and Love Joy blush as her essential beauty buys. It’s unlikely that you’d ever catch her wearing a different lip than Stila’s Fiery—a red that commands attention.

As for eyes? You guessed it—Maybelline’s Great Lash. She lightly lines her eyes with a black pencil or cream, but nothing more because the marriage of eye makeup and eyeglasses is tricky at best, magnified and messy at worst.

But her skincare and makeup routines are just a backdrop to the more interesting aspects of Alaina, which is her magazine-styled apartment, or her art collection, or her thoughts on culture and artistic mediums—it’s hard to decide.

Her studio apartment is a canvas of architecture from decades past, with the bones of contemporary style and feminine character. I guess you could say that it’s well curated. I guess you could say that’s just Alaina.

Take for example the big white couch from Wayfair.com that sits on top of the Overstock.com rug that borders Ikea chairs and Target lamps. Anywhere; virtual, brick-and-mortar, and around the corner, is a potential purveyor of Alaina’s next acquisition. So it’s no surprise that the yellow-gold chair that separates an eating and study area is from Craigslist, or that the canary chevron pillow on top of it is from Etsy.

Never too far is “Domino,” Alaina’s guide for decorating, which is never to be confused with “Art on My Mind: Visual Politics,” written by the indelible bell hooks (yes, all lowercase) and a permanent fixture in Alaina’s bookcase.

To know bell hooks is to know a bit about Alaina’s attraction to art. She loves the intersection of visual and contemporary culture. Her master’s thesis on art and identity during the 1980’s and 1990’s explored just that—when the works of African Americans and other minority artists began to enter museums.

And when she’s not admiring the curated spaces of Thelma Golden and the works of Basquiat, she broadens her own collection. An abstract of Hurricane Sandy hangs above her couch, and a newly acquired ode to the Harlem Renaissance, “Dancing,” is mounted at the head of her bed.

But there’s more to come. Alaina’s New Year’s resolution? Buy more art.

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