Mehndi with a modern touch

Port Moody
Port Moody's Nazil Kara applies her mehndi art to her daughter's hand and arm. She will teach a workshop at the Port Moody Arts Centre this month.
— image credit: janis WARREN/THE TRI-CITY NEWS

Nazil Kara holds her daughter’s arm still as she starts to gently squeeze henna paste from a cone-shaped plastic tube.

Quickly, with short strokes and dots, the Port Moody woman paints an intricate pattern on the teen’s hand, a typical design she has done so many times before at special events, bridal and home parties and by appointment at Kast Hair Studio.

The traditional body art that uses the dye from henna leaves has become a common sight these days, worn not just at south-Asian festive occasions but also by women of all ages and cultures who want to show off the lovely, temporary tattoos.

Kara, who will be teaching a mehndi art workshop for beginners this month at the Port Moody Arts Centre, started to use henna dye while growing up in Kenya.

As a child, she would smooth henna paste over her hands and place socks on top to let the dye darken overnight. But in the 1990s, when mehndi became trendy with fancy decorations, Kara employed the skills she had picked up at art college and created her own style, mixing Indian paisleys and peacocks with bold Arabic symbols.

Now, Kara is known for adding a touch of modern glamour to her work, popping the henna hues with glitter and rhinestones.

“It’s popular for special events,” she says, pointing to a photo shoot of a model with blue intertwined in her arm’s mehndi design.

Kara is proud of her artistry and takes care in noting the natural properties that can be found in her henna paste.

She imports the powder and dilutes it with a dark tea water. Next, depending on the event, she adds essential oils such as tea tree, lavender, clove or eucalyptus.

And, after it’s applied, a lemon-sugar solution is dripped on the mud to set it.

The paste is then left to dry on the skin — usually on the hands or feet, which are the warmest parts of the body and have the most energy — for four hours (Hindu and Muslim brides-to-be tend to have the henna paste on for eight hours for a dark colour).

Finally, when the mud is rubbed off, the deep orange decoration is revealed and, through oxidation, darkens further.

Kara said she’s heard from many clients about the healing properties of the paste and its application. “They like the smell. They like to just sit back and savour the whole experience. It’s almost like a spa effect for many of them,” she says.

Still, Kara cautions against black henna, which has the opposite qualities of traditional mehndi because it contains chemicals and can permanently damage the skin (Kara has a warning about black henna on her website at hennavancouver.com).

• The Port Moody Arts Centre’s henna art workshop runs for 2.5 hours on Sunday, Aug. 24, starting at 1 p.m. Participants are asked to wear old clothing as the henna may stain. Call 604-931-2008 or visit pomoarts.ca to sign up.


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