Exposure: Nail Artist Sonya Belakhlef

In art director Gem Fletcher’s latest column highlighting talent within the photography industry, she profiles New York-based nail artist Sonya Belakhlef, who works with both editorial and commercial clients

“When I was 19, I took a trip to Japan and became fascinated by these tiny sculptures on peoples nails in Harajuku,” says Sonya Belakhlef. “It was such a big part of the culture, and it opened my eyes to a whole new world that I could expand upon.” The New York artist has spent the last seven years creating exquisite, experimental nails for editorials, commercial campaigns, art installations and red carpet events like the Met Gala. Through Belakhlef’s playful practice, nails evolve beyond adornment and become a microcosm for storytelling. A space for expression that is accessible, free and full of joy.

“Growing up, I was never allowed to use makeup or paint my nails,” Belakhlef explains. “So my curiosity about beauty has always been so intense. I was home alone a lot as a kid and would steal my mom’s makeup and draw on my nails with Crayola markers – wiping it all off before they got home. It sounds weird to say, but I love the human hand. Its evolutionary role is so important, but I’m also fascinated by how it can also be a decorative form of expression.”

Fast forward to 2021, Belakhlef’s signature style, informed by a collision of colour and texture, has graced the pages of Vogue, Garage, Dazed, Office and the New York Times Magazine, working with photographers Renell Medrano, Nick Sethi, Jack Davison and Inez and Vinoodh.

Top and above: Shot in collaboration with Amy Lombard