DUBAI: Around the world, hundreds of thousands of women celebrate Eid by adorning their hands and feet with ornate henna or mehendi — an ancient body art that involves drawing elaborate designs on the skin using plant-based temporary dyes. The artists who create these works are known as hennayas.
In Dubai, one hennaya, Azra Khamissa — a Canadian-South African who speaks fluent Khaleeji Arabic — is making a name for herself with her unique designs that draw inspiration from nature, architecture, anatomy, movement and mood — adding a modern twist to this traditional art form. “I take (inspiration), I guess, from everywhere,” Khamissa told Arab News.
Khamissa initially became interested in henna as a child. “We’d always have a hennaya come to our home before Eid,” she said. “I found the traditional Emirati designs really beautiful. That inspired me to start experimenting with henna myself.”
Before long, she started looking into other traditional forms of henna, including Tunisian and Libyan styles, and was soon inspired to start creating her own. But eventually she grew bored of seeing the same designs over and over again in salons and on social media.
“I think this also inspired me to try henna again, to give it another chance, but with something that I like, something that I wanted,” she told Arab News.
Not everyone appreciates or understands her minimal designs, she admitted. “Traditionally, henna has always been something that you have to do a lot of for it to be beautiful,” she said. But plenty of people have had more positive reactions to seeing henna done in a different way “that connects them to their design philosophy.”
Khamissa, who also runs her own handbag brand, believes nostalgia plays a major role in henna’s ongoing popularity: “It reminds them of their grandmother, (it) reminds them of childhood.”