Henna, or mehndi, is a type of temporary tattoo commonly used in India, Africa, and the Middle East. In recent years, henna has become more popular in the United States
henna artist Jeans HelselGrand Rapids’ studio is just a small living room in his basement filled with comfy chairs, candles, and a cozy fireplace. Artist Cassie Jaffe from sacred henna says being a henna artist has become a lifestyle for her and Helsel.
“Whenever I come to see Jen, we’re usually like, ‘Hey, let’s do some henna!’ And then we chat while we make art on each other,” she says. “It’s the best way to spend time together because we’re creative, we can chat, we can chat. loosen. We can do everything and then we leave in style. So it’s a win, win, win.
Helsel henna paste is made of water, henna powder, lemon juice and essential oils.
“The actual henna plant is called Lawsonia inermis. It has been used for thousands and thousands of years, not just for its ability to stain. There are many medicinal uses. It’s an antifungal. Flowers have been used for perfumes for a very long time,” says Helsel. “You have to let the paste harden in a warm room and allow those cells to break down and break free.”
That’s how it stains your skin. Once it’s in place, you need to let the paste sit overnight before it can peel off and leave a stain. Helsel says that each country has its own style of mehndi.
“Morocco is very geometric. The Indian is very dense and you will see peacocks and things like that,” she says. “The Arab, you’ll get more flowers, that sort of thing.” And then the Sudanese are very, very daring whirlwinds – lots of footwork about that. And then there’s Gulf and it’s more like bouquets of flowers, wild bouquets.
Traditionally, women got mehndi for their wedding, before or after childbirth and on birthdays. Not just because it looks pretty, but because the wearer needs to relax. Otherwise, they will spoil the art.
“You know, back then someone had to grind up those leaves, it wasn’t done by a machine. High quality essential oils to deepen the stain would have been hard to come by. So getting a good stain was a big investment, both by the wearer and the artist. And so either you had someone who really liked you – you know, for doing it themselves and was talented – or you had people investing in your beautification,” says Hensel. “Going to do a bunch of work and erasing your stains quickly would be pretty disrespectful of the investment people are putting in you anyway.”
Cassie Jaffe says people are getting henna for all kinds of events now. She’s done everything from an 8-year-old’s birthday party to graduating from high school. But Jaffe says she mostly does what’s called a “blessing way,” a kind of celebration of pregnancy.
“It’s just a moment to respect the woman and give her a day before her day – every day is for the child.”
Helsel says she enjoys getting to know the people she tattoos.
“To spend this time together, there is a deep connection that occurs. And I think that’s probably… I think for all of us, that’s kind of our favorite part, is really getting to know someone and really having a time together. Even if you never speak to them again, you had this moment.
You can find other henna artists at Fulton Street Craft Market in Grand Rapids.