TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Monday, May 17, 2010

It's time for henna tattoos in Paducah!

Artist Adriene Cruz with her henna last summer here in Paducah.

One of my favorite things that comes with summer weather is henna!  Both wearing it and doing it at festivals and appointments, the mehndi designs warm my heart.  Henna and mehndi (mehandi) both mean the same thing in different languages, Arabic and Hindi, respectively.  

Henna tattoos came the United States via a fascination with all things Indian, especially, several years back, when celebrities like Madonna and, the-then-called-whatever-his-name-is-now, Prince.  Evoking images of brides decked out in red saris, gold bangles and nose rings, Indian mehndi designs became the most familiar in the West.  Yet, the art has been practiced for centuries all over Asia and Northern Africa, ranging from a basic blob on the palm to high-art intricate floral designs.  Normally used during festivals and celebrations, henna tattoos also have a host of meanings and uses depending on the cultures they represent.  Explorer, spy, and British envoy, Sir Richard Burton (not the actor, instead the guy who mapped the origin of the Nile with Richard Speak, translated the Kama Sutra and printed it in his basement press in Victorian England, and first white guy- uh, he may have had Roma roots- to enter Mecca) used it as a sunscreen as he crossed the desert on camel in many of his adventures.  

 Katy Packett gets henna on her back.

Credited to lower blood pressure, to keep the skin cool during heat, and as a thermometer for bride/mother-in-law relations (the deeper the color, the more the bride will be beloved), modern henna use in Asia is somewhat like getting a great new manicure.  Lasting 10 days to two weeks on most hands and feet, the transient nature of the designs is part of the fun.  You can always get a new design when this one fades out.

What is this henna stuff anyway?  Henna is a plant that releases a dye when it is dried and crushed.  Many people also use it in their hair as a red dye or conditioner.  There are many other natural ingredients that can be added to the henna to help enhance the color.  I use tea, eucalyptus oil, cloves and some other secrets to get great results.  All of these things are mixed together and made into a paste that looks alot like chocolate frosting.  Not as yummy though...  In fact, I use a cake decorator to apply the henna to the skin.  The paste sits on the skin for awhile, then it falls off and leaves the stain.  At first it looks kind of orange, but will reach its full color about 24 hours later.  Katy's photo shows the paste still on her back, while Adriene's hand is an example of the stain.  Every person gets a different effect depending on the acidic content of their bodies and best results happen on hands and feet.

 Rachel Biel doing henna downtown Paducah
Last summer I was able to park myself in front of 212 Broadway for the Downtown After Dinner every Saturday night.  I don't know if that will work this year, but will surely find a spot somewhere.  Meanwhile, the season starts this coming weekend with the Lowertown Arts & Music Festival.  I'm pretty sure I will be camped out somewhere between the Texaco station or Etcetera.

I'm also available for private parties, baby showers, and wedding receptions.  One of the most memorable henna experience I've had was when a couple chose a symbol that I then painted on guest's hands as a party favor at their reception.  Later, I heard that two of the guests that were there ran into each other on a Chicago subway.  They didn't know each other, but saw the symbol and started talking because of it, kind of like being members of a secret society.  It's all great fun, painless, and quite beautiful!  Can't wait to get my feet all gorgeous with henna!

Here's a Moroccan bride getting her hand hennaed:




“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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