From Marilyn Monroe’s Chanel No. 5, which she reportedly wore to bed, to Florence Griffith Joyner’s ruby red lips flaunted while winning gold at the 1988 Olympics, lipstick can define a woman’s persona.
But there’s a darker side to lipstick: Across the world, the cosmetic, garishly applied, is a marker of a prostitute or sex slave. In The Lipstick Portraits, a new exhibition featuring 65 images—some of them published here for the first time—beauty photographer Michael Angelo uses red lipstick to represent both individuality and submission.
“I’ve used red lipstick as a wonderful decoration to accessorize and everyone says, ‘I love it’ and ‘it makes me feel good,’” Angelo told The Daily Beast. “But for these kids in Cambodia who are sex slaves, it’s the complete opposite.” The exhibit includes shots of Susan Sarandon, burlesque star Dita Von Teese, and a host of other A-list performers and models decked out in red lip stain, alongside human rights activists Somaly Mam, Mu Sochua, and Leymah Gbowee, The Daily Beast’s Africa columnist. Proceeds will benefit the Somaly Mam Foundation, a non-profit organization working to abolish sex trafficking.
Angelo’s exhibit will run May 8 to May 23, Tuesday through Sunday from 12 to 6 PM at 401 Projects in Manhattan.