Made-Up Toronto

2018, Art, Downtown Yonge BIA, Photography, Yonge Space
art, cosmetics, culture, diversity, expression, LGBTQ+, makeup, photography, social rebellion, Toronto
About This Project

Date: June 14, 2018 – July 7, 2018


Partner: Downtown Yonge BIA


Venue: Yonge Space (Downtown Yonge BIA Pop-Up Gallery)


Project Members: Sarah Rolko & Jessica Svenningson


Made-Up Toronto is a photograph-based exhibition exploring makeup’s power as an artistic tool for self-expression and cultural identity. Despite makeup’s recent rise in popularity, the exploration of makeup’s contemporary artistic and cultural relevance has had limited representation by museums and art galleries to date.



Using an ethnographic lens, this photography exhibition called on members of the Toronto community to participate in a photo shoot highlighting their use of makeup to express themselves and what this expressive medium means to them. In collaboration with professional photographer Leeor Wild, twenty-one Torontonians were photographed and interviewed to record and construct their views about makeup.



Made-Up Toronto demonstrates some of the many reasons people wear makeup, while adding another layer to Toronto’s multi-cultural mosaic. We hope this exhibition will encourage people to further express themselves through makeup, and see the city “made-up” in a new light.




We partnered with the Downtown Yonge B.I.A. to bring the exhibition to life in their new pop-up gallery, Yonge Space, on the corner of Yonge and Gerrard in the spring of 2018. Due to construction delays, the exhibit did not launch until June 2018. We worked with other collaborators on this project to bring this project to light, namely free, MobilBid and Downtown Camera. Thanks to our collaboration with free, we were connected to the professional photographer, Leeor Wild, to create the art for this exhibition. We were also given access to a photo studio and provided with promotional material for the exhibition. MobilBid assisted in the selling of the artwork after the completion of the exhibition through their online platform. Downtown Camera provided development and printing services for the project.



We came together to work on this project when we noticed how little makeup appears in museums and art galleries. We shared an interest in makeup and its many uses and felt that Toronto presented the perfect landscape to explore this unique artistic medium. We began planning for this project a year in advance of its opening. By October 2017, we were seeking sponsorship and actively promoting the project. We advertised for participants for the project in early January 2018 and conducted photo shoots on two days at the end of January 2018. All our content had been developed and prepared in time for an April 2018 launch because this was the original date pitched to us by Downtown Yonge. However, due to the construction delays, installation and the exhibition launch did not take place until June 2018.



The exhibit is made up of twenty-one photos of each of the elective participants in the project. To create the photographs, the chosen participants did their own makeup and had a thirty-minute photo shoot with our professional photographer, Leeor Wild. Participants were interviewed after their shoots and asked a set of questions, in order to gather their personal testimony regarding their relationship with makeup. Texts were structured based off these interviews and put into a booklet that all visitors could take and read as they went through the exhibit. A small thumbnail of each photo was included in the booklets beside each participant’s personal testimony for reference. The personal testimonies demonstrated there are deeper meanings behind wearing makeup that goes beyond its status as a beauty tool.



The exhibit space also included an introductory panel to situate visitors and an interactive element. The interactive element was a question on the wall that pertained to a theme throughout the course of this project, asking the audience “What does makeup mean to you?” Sticky notes were provided for visitors to comment and display their answers for other visitors to reflect on. We felt that this element would bring the project full circle and demonstrate the project goals by confronting the audience with the same question we had been asking ourselves.



Marketing for this exhibition was mostly done thanks to our collaboration with free. They prepared marketing documents for us and marketed through their existing platforms. We also did marketing through social media and whatever online presence we could accumulate. Lastly, we created our own press release that we released to the media for further advertising. Programming included a makeup masterclass and multiple curator tours throughout the run of the exhibit.



Made-Up Toronto took place thanks to the support of many collaborators and sponsors. We would like to thank Downtown Yonge BIA and in particular, Rebecca Stubbs. The project was made possible thanks to the continuous support from free, especially from Jeff Ord. free connected us to photographer Leeor Wild, provided studio space and recording equipment, and promotional material. We want to thank Leeor Wild for her amazing photography that brought our vision to light. We would like to thank Downtown Camera and New Era Grafix for their printing services. We thank MobilBid for assistance supporting the auctioning of the artwork and helpful advice. We are also eternally grateful for all of our sponsors who donated to the completion of the project. This of course would not be possible without their support. Finally, thank you to the University of Toronto Faculty of Information, especially our professor Matthew Brower and our teaching assistants, Rebecca Noone and Camille-Mary Sharpe for their endless advice and constant support.