What you need to know:
Ms Agnes Ahebwa, the special effects makeup artist on the Queen of Katwe movie started her beauty career shaping women’s eyebrows in Owino market at Shs2,000. She now earns millions from the trade.
It has been relentless hard work and personal motivation that has brought Ms Agnes Ahebwa, the proprietor of Agy’s Makeup this far.
The special effects makeup artist on the Queen of Katwe movie started her beauty career shaping women’s eyebrows in Owino market. She had gained their trust as she worked alongside her mother in the market, during her S6 vacation.
Then, Ms Ahebwa’s wage was Shs2,000 but on joining university, this was insufficient to meet her needs. To supplement this money, she opted to cut the women traders’ eyebrows at Shs2,000 per face. Then, transport to town and back was Shs1,000 so making between Shs6,000 and Shs10,000 a day, beautified with tips was enough.
Ms Ahebwa’s love for beauty dates back to childhood when she plaited her dolls’ hair. At university, she plaited her hair and at times applied makeup and slept. “It was for the love of seeing the final product,” she says.
She also browsed the internet for beauty and exotic makeup fascinated her. However, Ms Ahebwa had never met anyone that did it here. Then her paths crossed with Ms Rachel Atuhaire Turyahikayo (Makeup by Rea) on November 21, 2014, while doing a birthday photoshoot.
“I was thrilled because she did my kind of makeup. She was also exceptional and gave me a reason to learn and do more and better.”
Ms Ahebwa made the most of her meeting with Rachel by asking to be her apprentice, to which Atuhaire agreed.
“It worked well for both of us as Rachel also needed someone to leave at the makeup studio as she went to school. I do not like or know how to teach. So if you can watch me work and replicate, then we are good,” Rachel told me. I agreed to watch and after my first day, practised what she had done. On the same day, I met a photographer whose work I admire – Fred Bugembe. He photographed me after recreating what I had learned.”
The agreement was that Ms Ahebwa worked for the studio in exchange for learning.
Learning special effects makeup
The next day, as she went about her assignments, Ms Ahebwa met Eva, the producer of a series - Beneath the Lies, at the studio. Her special effects work, such as making blood thrilled her. “It was something I wanted to add to my specialties and Eva did it beautifully. That was when a colleague at the café gave me Mr Michael Wawuyo’s contact,” she says.
On calling him, Ms Ahebwa learned that he was also looking for an apprentice. Confirming her interest, she started the journey of learning special effects.
She is thankful for her time with Atuhaire at the studio working with several clients such as media celebrities on NTV among others, on the makeup side.
On the other hand, with Mr Wawuyo, she was introduced to The Queen of Katwe as the only Ugandan makeup artist on the scene. When she was on the movie set, Derrick Ssekamatte, who later became her student, stood in for her and it was the best of both worlds. Mr Wawuyo also introduced her to do the Coffee Shop followed by another production called Pappi. The Coffee Shop TV series won five awards in 2015 and Ms Ahebwa scooped the makeup artist award.
Taking a break
Between 2016 and 2018, Ms Ahebwa took a break from the movie industry and concentrated on beauty to start her family.
“Being pregnant, and sometimes with health complications, I did not have the energy needed on a movie set. Additionally, I intentionally took a break to raise each child until they are three or five. I desired to instil in them certain values and believed that those were their formative years.”
Mentoring makeup artists
To ensure cash flow, Ms Ahebwa started bridal hairstyling as well as teaching and several of her students have made it in the makeup world. These include Derrick Ssekamatte of Beats by Deryk, DaphineD, Cathy of Top Notch in Mbarara, and Shamia Faces.
“I do one-to-one teaching and follow up on my students. I find it disturbing to pass on a skill to one who will not use it. It is amazing to look at those you have mentored become better than you. For instance, I am so proud of Derrick because he keeps on improving himself, never settling for less. Another is Top Notch who is shining bright in Mbarara.”
Any artist needs a place to showcase their work and besides the mentees, her Facebook page was her monograph. However, more than once, Ms Ahebwa has lost these with the first happening when her page name was taken over.
She created another, Aggies Makeup but it was hacked into and deleted.
“It is painful to lose your work as it means you must start rebranding afresh,” she says.
Despite all the ugly shakeups, Ms Ahebwa is proud to have inspired many in the beauty industry as well as changed the face of the movie industry’s makeup.
“Previously, people were averse to the makeup I did on the scenes saying it was too much. However, TV presenters have since embraced it which shows that I have made a mark.”
Previously, Ms Ahebwa worked to learn hence no pay. Her first paid makeup clients were Sheeba Karungi (on her birthday) and Julie Metesasira (for an interview) in 2015. Then came Hilda Bahati, followed by Sheila Gashumba until 2018 when Ms Ahebwa took a break.
“In 2015, with Sheeba, my charge was Shs50,000 per session. Now, the fee is between Shs100,000 and Shs150,000. On the other hand, bridal makeup is now at Shs1.5m for the matron and bride. However, the hair is between Shs800,000 and Shs1.5m depending on the style and hair type.”
From Sheeba, Ms Ahebwa learned to focus and give people a chance. However, among all the clients, Gashumba was the best because she always paid even when she brought her friends.
“She also recommended me to others, never keeping quiet about the good service. That is something many of my clients then never did.”
Pains of beauty industry
Most makeup artists are proud, to the detriment of their careers. Ms Ahebwa says it all starts when clients feel attached to you.
“This makes some feel indispensable.”
Some set several appointments with clients at the same time, which interferes with service delivery. It also makes clients bitter which ruins their reputation.
“Every client is special and worth celebrating. That way, I work on the first deposit, first appointment.”
Ms Ahebwa wishes she had known how to market herself earlier.
“I also wish I had a clear vision of what I wanted. I would have been in a better place. That said, the experience gained over the years makes the journey worth it.”
Ms Ahebwa dreamed of returning to special effects as well as beauty-makeup. One of the projects after the comeback was the Kojja series last year and a short movie, Sabotage, yet to hit the screens.
She is also considering rebranding because there is still a journey to her dream destination. “However, I am still on the fence about it. Nonetheless, I see myself bigger and growing into a company; a school of beauty.”
Apart from her makeup mentors- Mr Wawuyo and Ms Atuhaire, Ms Ahebwa is thankful to her mother for teaching her the value of hard work. She is also thankful to her husband, Mr Allan Okia for allowing her to go into the world.
“I also thank Ms Nulu Nalukenge who pushed me back into working when I was in a comfortable zone. There is also Ms Maureen Kyomuhendo of Soothing Spot Spa for believing in me and giving me my first makeup products worth approximately Shs800,000. That is not forgetting all the clients who have believed in me over the years.”