It takes a lot to cut through Instagram's endless streams of belfie art-personas, women who've apparently pissed themselves . But as 18-year-old sixth-form student and artist Karim Boumjimar discovered, if you tell people online you had your nipples surgically removed, internet gullibility and morbid curiosity will gladly wield the knife for you. Though his nearly-nude, snail-covered selfies and penchant for selling plastic bag crop-tops had already started to see him garner attention, it was this Photoshop-aided stunt that suddenly saw him everywhere from he Daily Mail, Metro, Dazed and Paper magazine, and in turn transformed the way he viewed the Instagram world that had made his name.
We meet in Dalston, Karim resplendent in glossy red eye makeup, a Sim-card earring in one ear, shiny blouse and his signature cut-up black Air Forces, the backs removed to create "slippers," so he's less likely to be late for things. We're just yards from Vogue Fabrics, the anything goes gay cub where Karim met his boyfriend - and while he lives in Stratford and his college is in Havering, Essex, Dalston feels like his spiritual home.
Stripped of the real and figurative screens that online interaction affords, he cuts a charming, hilarious and occasionally awkward figure in real life. Super slim, he veers from deadly serious to the sort of bonkers that the the vegan freakshake/cat on a lead brigade can only sit in their co-working space and dream about.
With art that's so reliant on Instagram and the reactions of others, the work becomes less about photography and more about an ongoing performative gesture that only exists through the weird, affirmative or rude interactions with others. We hung out with Karim to find out what he's been up to since his nipples were well and truly freed.
Hi Karim. So why did you decide to fake your nipples being cut off?
I really want to make a change about how people perceive humans and how we think of each other, I want to change how we see the whole body. It's so easy online - it's like when you throw bread into a river and the fishes just come. I just throw these things out there and people just come. Everywhere in life there's a line between what's reality and what's a lie, and it's funny seeing what people will believe.
You recently ran the #GetBeigetypeIntoFoundation campaign to try and get a place on a foundation course. Since your art's pretty well-known now, why was it so hard? Have you got onto one?
My attendance at college is like 15%. I don't think the teachers really want me back: they think I'm like a fish that needs to go off and swim into the sea or something. Because it's a sixth form and not a college, I had to be in every day. It's devastating! It's too much! I got into a foundation in Richmond now. I think my boyfriend got me in, I don't think they really paid much attention in my interview.
What's it been like for you since that story went so big?
The day after it came out I went into college and the counsellor was looking for me. They said they were worried about my safety and people exploiting me. It was a nice conversation in the end but at the very beginning I was quite scared, thinking they were going to stop me having Instagram.
I recently started to feel, like, really exposed. I've been cyber bullied before, but when that happens I imagine those people as working in MacDonalds - like why would I bother wasting my time with people like that, who wear like really tacky stuff? I think the reason they hate is like if I saw those people in real life I would never pay attention.
Before, I used to be really open when I went out with my friends but now I now get quite anxious. Online, people can't hurt me but when it comes to real life it's a bit like, hmmm....
Why the name Beigetype?
Oh god it's really funny. When I lived in Spain, I was the darkest one in my whole college and people used to call me the word N, and say that I was skinny because I had to run from all the lions in Africa - then in England people on Twitter were saying things like "white people are crazy." I grew up thinking I was black, I never mentioned that to my mum though. When I moved to London I was walking down Oxford Street and saw actual black people and I thought "maybe I'm not black? what colour am I?" I realised actually I'm beige.
How does sexuality and queer identity inform your work? What does your mum think about the more sexualised images?
People wouldn't take me seriously if I was straight - oh my god, oh my god...I think on the internet there's a standard now: to be someone important online and to be relevant you have always had to have a strong personality, be good looking, be white and have blue eyes. If I was white I'd have so many followers. White people have realised that's not enough any more. Now they're trying to be queer. Everyone's trying to be queer now because it will get you somewhere.
Last year whenever I bought girly stuff I would have to hide it under my bed, and my mum found it and was like "we have to talk about this." I was in Oxford Circus literally like crying; she was talking about gay people and HIV and blah blah blah but it's all completely fine now. My mum reads my Instagram comments and she mentions them to me which I'm not happy about - if I haven't noticed the comments that's because I don't want to read them.
How much of what you does a persona, and what's the real you?
Online I can talk to anyone, but I'm actually quite shy in real life. Do you think people think it's clear this [Instagram] is a character? Because next month I could delete it and create a whole new persona, which could be a girl, or anyone. You can play around online - it's like a playground and you can do whatever you want.
What do you hope to achieve with your work? Are you worried people won't take your work as seriously now, since that story was on places like The Daily Mail?
I'm not too worried about taking things seriously. I got suspended from Facebook a lot because I posted screenshots from people who sent nudes to me, so I thought "ok I'm just going to expose everyone." It was a joke, I'm never going to take them seriously. One day I posted a picture of me and a friend, and said something like "if I don't have 20,000 followers by tomorrow I'm going to abort this baby", and everyone believed it, telling me I was killing babies, I'm a bad dad and things like that. But when I wrote about trying to get into foundation thing no one believed me.
My work's a kind of activism. You can get a message online across the world to anyone. I wouldn't say I want to talk about body positivity - to be honest I don't even need the tag because I'm quite confident - I'm over it, but I'd always support someone who uses it.
I see my work as a process, something I'm developing that isn't final. I would never call myself a photographer but I always use photography as my medium. I think of something in my brain and then try and get it into real life, and give it shape. Now with my Instagram I see it as a social experiment in a way.