Henna - from an ancient art to a modern accessory
STYLIST & ABAYA BY SABRINA SAID | PHOTOGRAPHER: EMMA KHOO OF FYI PHOTOGRAPHY | MODELS: FATMA SADIQ & SAMANEH BABALHAVAEJI
Henna. What immediately comes to mind would be intricate, decorative patterns drawn on the hands and feet of the bride or her guests during weddings. Over the years, this traditional decorative body art not only appeals to sticklers for tradition but has become a temporary fashion accessory that is appreciated by fashionistas and hipsters, regardless of culture.
Today, henna practice has appeared in many other forms including designs on candles, clothing and more. The 21st century has seen many who appreciate this beautiful art form that is unique and steeped in history. As a henna artist, I really enjoy playing around with a range of patterns. Most henna artists have a signature style that clients go to them for. In my case, I love experimenting with different henna styles and dyes but also, all of my designs are done “in the moment”. This is my unique style that is highly spontaneous and involves the input of the customers for the design of the final outcome, which makes it really fun for both parties.
Henna is not exclusive to the Asian and Middle Eastern regions. In fact, early American and European explorers have been aware of henna body art for centuries. Many would return from their travels in the Middle East, Africa and India with faded temporary tattoos covering their bodies. However, henna art did not take off in the West until the 1990s, with rising interest in the East and the fascination with the “exotic”. It is not clear when and where the exact origins of henna tattooing began, but it is a very old tradition that has been around since the Ancient Egyptians. In the past, it was only the royals and the rich that would adorn themselves with it. Legend has it that Cleopatra used henna as an accessory to decorate her body, and Egyptians used it to paint the nails of mummies before they were buried.
In many of these countries, henna is a symbol of empowerment for women...
This paste, known as mehndi in Indian, hinna in Arabic and privet in Egypt, is derived from the plant Lawsonia inermis, also known as hina or the henna tree. The red pigment found on the henna leaves is what makes the patterns come out in a reddish-brown color. Let me reveal an interesting property about henna paste. It has cooling effects that seeps into the body, which is great for those travelling to or living in Asia and in the Middle East. The color intensity of the henna dye also depends on many factors like the type of skin and the body part to which is applied.
STYLIST & ABAYA BY SABRINA SAID | PHOTOGRAPHER: EMMA KHOO OF FYI PHOTOGRAPHY | MODELS [L-R]: FATIMA OMAR, FATUMINA SAID, SAMANEH BABALHAVAEJI, FATMA SADIQ
There has been an increased interest in white henna. Even though this dye doesn’t come from the actual henna plant itself, it is still very popular, especially in the Middle East where beauty queens like Huda Khattan are posting about it on their social media.
Recently, there has also been a craze over black henna that is derived from the jaguar fruit. This fruit can be spotted in rainforests of Central and South America. The black henna paste is completely safe to use but leaves a visibly darker stain. Black henna was already very popular in places like Saudi Arabia but recently it has become popular in the West due to its resemblance to actual tattoos. The most enjoyable part is that henna art can last up to two weeks.
Henna art is almost a must-do during Eid celebrations, festivities or wedding occasions typically on hands and feet, but it has become a popular practice throughout the year. Henna patterns are also very region specific. For example, in countries situated in East Africa, the designs are bigger, more geometric and bolder and the henna designs are darker whilst in places in India people draw fuller detailed designs featuring fine, lacy floral and paisley patterns, and in the Middle East they prefer large floral designs and vine patterns. In many of these countries, henna is a symbol of empowerment for women; in India the beauty of a woman’s creativity is celebrated through the practice of mehndi. In some areas, men also decorate their hands with henna. Therefore, this art form is not only a feminine practice.
STYLIST & ABAYA BY SABRINA SAID @SOBRI.SAID | PHOTOGRAPHER: EMMA KHOO OF FYI PHOTOGRAPHY | MODEL: FATIMA OMAR
In the past couple of years, the use of henna as an actual accessory has become more mainstream with superstars like Rihanna and Beyoncé visibly showing henna designs in their music videos. Modest fashion has not been a stranger of henna art and nowadays, you see many fashionistas or bloggers pulling it off with their beautiful, long and colorful garments. These girls are expressing their sense of non-conformity to mainstream society and the freedom to express themselves as strong independent women of the 21st century.
So if you are somebody who likes body art and jazzing their appearance or getting a permanent tattoo is not appealing to you, then henna art is definitely the way to go, something fun and not too long term.
Henna isn’t reserved to a selected few anymore and with time, to some it has become a symbol of resilience and strength, to others a modern accessory and to the many who try not to conform to social boundaries, a form of self-expression and individuality.
THE WRITER: FATUMINA SAID
Fatumina is henna artist, singer, journalist and model. Such an impressive resume and her works speak for themselves. An advocate for Muslimahs and hijabis, Fatumina was the first ever hijabi to walk as a model for her University’s fashion and modelling society, proving that as a hijabi you can still participate in activities and still be yourself.
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