Volume 92, Issue 23
Thursday, October 15, 1998
talk it out
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Words for the mind, body & soul
MEHNDI: THE TIMELESS ART OF HENNA PAINTING
St. Martin's Griffin
With body art being en vogue lately it's no surprise to find literature on Mehndi or henna painting, popping up at book stores everywhere.
The Mehndi craze, sported and supported by Madonna among other celebrities, is a safe, temporary way to practice body art. Loretta Roome's do-it-yourself Mehndi book adopts all the pop culture trademarks surrounding body art and self-expression. She has just the right mix of ancient lore, self-help and new-age ideals to attract a wide audience.
Mehndi is rooted in Middle Eastern, Indian and North African customs. Roome says the true function of Mehndi art is to entice, to protect and to celebrate. It is primarily used by women as a ritual in preparation for marriage. Mehndi is then practised until the woman is widowed or dies.
The art of henna painting has thus come to symbolize life-long love, hope and faith. The decorations are primarily for the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. This is where the dye stains most deeply and the deeper the stain the more profound are the Mehndi designs' symbolic meanings.
Traditionally, men seldom wear Mehndi. Usually Mehndi is considered to be within the hidden realm of women's lives. Roome asserts in these cultures, female rituals take on a highly empowering role since women's lives are otherwise largely controlled and monitored.
However, in Western culture Mehndi has broadened in its range. Henna painting has transcended its traditional uses on hands and feet since more of the body is open to view in Western culture.
Roome takes the reader on a journey combining the history of Mehndi with its modern uses in both Eastern and Western cultures. She recounts stories of women preparing themselves for the ritual of painting alongside amusing modern anecdotes of her previous customers who did not take the time required to be properly painted.
Through her stories, Roome stresses the sacredness of this art. She states that it is imperative to devote time and energy to the Mehndi designs in order to preserve their legacy of ritual, of love and of faith.
The book doesn't all revolve on this spiritual level, though much of it is about the sacredness of the art, its designs and its history. Roome does infuse enough needed practicality to bring it back to earth. She spends a great deal of the book explaining the significance of the many traditional symbols of Mehndi and importantly, peppers the explanations with precise diagrams to show the readers how to recreate the design on their own.
She shares tricks of the trade on how to choose Henna powder and what to mix it with in order to make paint that consistently dyes the skin. Roome also shares secrets to effectively dying alternative places of the body and making sure the dye adheres to the skin.
Roome mentions that in her New York City studio she has painted many people, both men and women, celebrities and students, on varied places of the body. She writes she believes that henna painting is an affordable and safe way to express oneself.
The book is a well written, carefully expressed Western view of ancient Eastern art. For those interested, this book provides an excellent foundation in Mehndi tradition and a useful resource for finding Henna products and distributors.
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Copyright © The Gazette 1998