Engineering graduate breaks stereotypes with her henna art

Henna art [Source: Flickr/Catana]

For Sumaiya Rashid Magray of Baghat Barzulla, few initial art classes in her school to a mega student festival in the University of Kashmir—made her choose between passion and profession.

“I remember my days in my school. I have always been fascinated with art since my childhood. I would do paintings, cartooning and go on sketching,” she says. “I would even do henna art in my school and my teachers would always appreciate it,” she recalls.

“When I joined University of Kashmir’s Zakura campus for my B.Tech, I participated in Sonzal festival. And for the first time in 2018, they had Mehandi competition too. I secured first position there and participated in the North India Nationals at Panjab University, Chandigarh.”

“There (national competition) I was runner up there and honestly, I got immense appreciation there too and it boosted my confidence,” she says.

Narrating her journey about launching her first of its kind organic henna outlet, she says “It wasn’t an easy journey for me. It was only possible after I got immense support from the family and friends.”

She has adopted her pet name into her professional life, so goes by a brand called Mehandi by Sana.

Pursuing master’s in Electronics and Communication from Panjab University, Chandigarh, Sumaiya says “My journey with henna began in 2017 as a hobby and I delved deep into this art which fascinated the depth of my heart which is when I became friends with some proficient henna artists like Nashwah Khan who goes by the Brand name of @mehndibyhayat.” “I owe her a great deal as she guided me and imparted a lot of knowledge as well as invested a lot of time in me which proved pivotal in my growth and development as a henna artist.”

She says that she never thought of doing henna professionally until one of my cousins posted my work on social media and it got huge attention, and before I knew, I started receiving requests to work professionally.

“I was skeptical over my decision as the professional artists in Kashmir were only some non-locals who never had a competition, especially not one from any Kashmiri girl, who worked professionally.”

Months before a wedding or even Eid, the hunt for the best henna artists. The henna trend is now becoming more popular day by day. In Asia, women use mehndi on hands on occasions like weddings and engagements as well as during Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha and other events. In wedding ceremonies, the Mehndi ceremony has traditionally been separated into two events; one organized by the bride’s family, and one by the groom’s family. These two events are solely dedicated for adorning the bride and groom in Mehndi and is known as a ‘Mehndi night.’

“You may have seen many girls asking on different forums for the best henna artists, and to be honest, no one wants to risk their special occasion or their hands by getting it done from someone unprofessional,” she says.

“Henna art is a part of our culture, contrary to this we don’t see many local henna artists. This is what motivated, triggered and inspired me to work on my art and I set my goals to bring Kashmiri female henna artists on the forefront of professional henna art.”

“Moreover, being close to my deen, I have always been against the idea of a gair-mahram doing the mehandi of a bride, especially when it’s for such an auspicious occasion of nikkah. These are the intrinsic factors. The extrinsic resistances appeared when people around me started questioning my decision to work as a henna artist,” she says.

“I was berated for doing mehandi for brides by telling me that I’ll be going from house to house doing Mehandi. Despite having built such an incredible clientele and having the opportunity to travel and meet fascinating people, I have spent a lot of time in university feeling unsuccessful.”

She says pursuing her passion, even part time has come with its trials and tribulations. “Introducing myself as a henna artist was very unconventional and belittling. In India, you can find people on streets doing henna to earn a sub-par Income. For that reason, it’s often not perceived with the respect it rightfully deserves,” she laments.

“I’ve come so far now that those stereotypes have been broken down, and I know for a fact that those people will never question my actions anymore, but will now look at me with admiration and respect.” “I have now done bridal henna for the best artists here in Kashmir. I have my website where I sell my organic henna products and people are loving them! I get numerous orders per day and Alhamdulillah I’m doing well now!

Pertinently, according to research, in ancient Egypt, Ahmose-Henuttamehu  was probably a daughter of Seqenenre Tao and Ahmose Inhapy. Smith reports that the mummy of Henuttamehu’s own hair had been dyed a bright red at the sides, probably with henna. In Europe, henna was popular among women connected to the aesthetic movement and the pre-raphaelite artists of England in the 1800s. Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s wife and muse, Elizabeth Siddal, had naturally bright red hair. Contrary to the cultural tradition in Britain that considered red hair unattractive, the pre-raphaelites fetishized red hair. Siddal was portrayed by Rossetti in many paintings that emphasized her flowing red hair.

“But I still have a long way to go. I will be the happiest person if a Kashmiri girl surpasses me at my art, and I’ll also look forward to the day when henna artists won’t be called ‘mehandi walis’ anymore,” she says.