Mbali Sebokedi is using book covers to create makeup looks

What do you get when you combine books and make-up? Well, books as lewks of course – using book covers as inspiration for makeup looks. Mbali Sebokedi is the creator behind this fantastic idea. The Daily Vox chatted with her to find out how she came up with this concept. 

First of all, please tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am currently studying and I am doing my masters in literary theory. The focus of my thesis is the idea of motherhood and nationhood in African literature. I am focusing on three women writers – from Uganda, Zimbabwe and Zambia. I’m looking to see if there are any new ideas or if the ideas of motherhood have shifted in any way. Other than that I review books on Instagram under books as lewks. That’s me basically. 

Sebokedi’s thesis will be focusing on The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell, House of Stone by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma and The Kintu Saga by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi.    

Before we get to the #booksaslewks, what drew you to reading and books? 

From childhood, I was surrounded by a lot of people who read from family friends to cousins and my dad. Reading has always been a thing in the family. I always brag about this – it’s my greatest achievement. In grade one, I got a five on my report card for reading when the highest number was four. So I could read from grade one and from then it was the school library and local library. Christmas was for books. I would get a budget of like R1000 to buy as many books. 

Sebokedi grew up reading Enid Blyton’s books like the Famous Five and Gcina Mhlophe’s folktales. She also discovered her love of African literature. 

So let’s turn to Instagram – what made you start reviewing books on the platform?

So my Instagram started out normal like everyone else. I would share what I was reading but I never reviewed it. So lockdown helped but really books as lewks was a fluke. I saw that people were getting attracted to the face value of the looks and then they would also read the review because it was there. So that’s when I decided this was what I was going to do. And I don’t think I’ll ever stop. It’s so nice to see people DM me about what they’re reading and just to see people read for fun. 

Were you surprised at the positive response?

I was surprised because when I shared it, I noticed there were more likes than usual. Then I shared it on Twitter and it blew up. People were saying we never would have thought about makeup and lewks and I was like – yes, mine neither. It just grew from there. Many people also said they didn’t know what to read so clearly many people want to read as well. 

So what ultimately made you decide to marry books and makeup?

So it started with this challenge called “Books as outfits” at the beginning of lockdown. I just didn’t have the wardrobe to do the challenge so I told a friend who wanted me to do the challenge that I’d use makeup. For the most, the book cover does all of the work. Like I didn’t think certain colour combinations would work but they work on the cover so obviously they would work on my face. It’s also about me pushing myself in terms of looks I created. 

One of Sebokedi’s favourite looks was the one she created for Mia Arderne’s Mermaid Fillet. 


Mermaid meat in Cape Town – Q&A with magical realism author Mia Arderne

These are some of her other favourites as she really had to go out of her comfort zone to create them. 

Some of the authors have even recognised her work like Akwaeke Emezi and Arderne. 

Okay, those were your favourite looks, but what have been your favourite books from the past year?

Mermaid Fillet. Reading the book felt like home because I grew up in Cape Town. Those Who Live in Cages by Terry-Ann Adams. It’s the importance of Eldorado Park being represented and the story itself was amazing. Black Leopard Red Wolf by Marlon James. It felt like a fever dream and I loved the book. Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta. The writing is incredible – five pages in and I was tearing up. Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko. It was perfect – the storytelling, characters and magic system was amazing. 


Terry-Ann Adams is writing about Eldorado Park 

Sebokedi says her TBR (to-be-read list) is very stressful as it keeps growing. 

As an avid reader and academic, why would you say reading is so important?

So empathy is very important to me. I think you might use theories to figure out race, gender etc but at the base of every theory is empathy and humanity. Through reading, I’ve grown my empathy. I’ve learnt things without being violent towards others. Some people say it’s curiosity but it’s violence. It’s helped me to understand and helped make me a better person. In a very humane part of your life, it is so important to read. It’s important to read far and wide for empathy, understanding and critical thinking. 

Featured image provided.