Beyond Henna… a peek inside this beautiful art with Sabah Ismail

I’ve always been attracted to Henna as an art form. As a creative person myself and after meeting this talented women the first time for her love of writing, it was clear to me I had to delve in deeper to her life as a beautiful artist. 

After a short conversation she agreed to show me her work and create some wonderful artwork on my skin. As I interviewed her I couldn’t help but notice the passion, excitement and emotional connection she had to the work she was doing. This was an amazing experience not just physically but on an emotional level too. You can read all about Henna and our time together below;

When did you first realise you were so creative? Has is been since childhood?

I’ve always been a creative person, have been doing arts and crafts and writing poetry since I was a small child. I guess it’s not really something I ever realised, it was just something that’s always been a part of me.


How did you end up getting into Henna? 

Growing up in a Pakistani household, it was always something that was done for weddings and special occasions. Back in the day, we used to mix up a pot of henna paste with water and use a cocktail stick to apply it! I remember being fascinated by it as a child. I’ve always done it, since way back then!

For events in high school from the age of 11, I used to have a little stall and I’d do it for friends around school. Then some school friends used to come to my house around Eid time (Eid is the Islamic celebration after Ramadan, the month of fasting, and for ladies, applying henna is part of the celebrations) and pay me to do it! Now I think back, that blows my mind that I already kind of had a little business back then, aged 12/13.


How did you start your business in Manchester. Was it successful? 

I only actually started doing henna professionally from the age of around 20. For me, the idea came when I was at uni in Liverpool when I was applying it on some friends who told me I should take it more seriously. I moved back to Manchester that summer and decided to make a proper go of it. I started off by doing small charity events and slowly, business grew through word of mouth and I got busier and busier. Yes, I would say it was pretty successful. Due to other commitments, I never really put as much into it as I wanted to but yeah, it did well.


You’re a very creative and open person. Have you always been this way or did something inspire you? 

I’m a deeply sensitive person and I always have been. I feel everything so very deeply and this is from where my creativity flows. In regards to being open, again I always have been, usually expressing how I feel about things through words. That explains why I’m now also a blogger, writer and journalist!


What’s the largest design you’ve done and how long did it take? 

The largest design I’ve done was a large back henna piece for a client of mine who was a bride, and was going somewhere beautiful for her honeymoon and wanted to show it off! However, she didn’t want anyone in her family to know she was having it done so we had to lock the door and I had to clamber all around her on the bed. Interesting experience!

What is the most emotional piece you’ve done and why? 

This would have to be my first ever ‘henna crown’ that I did for a lovely lady who I am now proud to call my friend, Cherrill. Cherrill was battling cancer at the time and had lost all her hair through chemotherapy. Fate brought us together as she contacted me due to a post I had put out on my Facebook page, letting everyone know that I offered free henna crowns for anyone suffering from cancer.

Anyway, a few months after speaking, she came up to Manchester for her henna crown session and it was one of the most humbling and beautiful experiences of my entire henna career. As I applied henna to her scalp, we connected through so much more than just henna – I can’t really explain it. I know she loved the experience too – she even kept the paste on for three days to get the optimum colour! 


What henna products do you use and why?

I use only fresh, natural, home-made henna paste that I got from a wonderful henna artist called Henna Visa back when I was in the UK. My supplies here are now dwindling so the plan is to start making my own very soon!

There are misconceptions about henna that I would like to clear up. Firstly, there is no such thing as ‘black henna’ or ’emergency henna’ – these things are filled with harmful chemicals including PPD, which can cause severe allergic reactions and can even be contributing factors in early death. I only use 100% natural henna because that’s how henna should be! It’s such a beautiful art form that goes beyond just the skin, and to use something filled with chemicals and to call that henna completely goes against that. I use natural henna because it’s safe and because it leaves the most beautiful stain with the correct aftercare. And it smells gorgeous!


Are you doing a lot of Henna now here in Mauritius? 

No, not at the moment. I had a baby in December and have a three-year-old son too so life is pretty busy. I’m also trying to find my way in the market here as what people are willing to pay for henna here is no where near what I would charge in the UK. I guess I’m still currently trying to find my way here.

I am taking orders for my henna inspired artwork and products though, which Mauritian people seem to really love. 

What is the meaning of Henna do you know how it originated? 

Henna is centuries old! It was used in Egypt and India as a temporary body art form for religious ceremonies, weddings and simple body adornment. The henna plant grows in tropical climates like Africa, Southern Australia and South Asia. It even grows right here in Mauritius – we have a henna plant growing in our garden!


What is your most favourite piece you’ve done? 

It would definitely have to be the henna crown. Not because it was my best work, because it really wasn’t – it was my first time doing a henna crown after all. But because of everything it stood for and meant to me and my client. Henna for me is more than just henna. It’s about connecting with people, helping people, inspiring people and spreading love, light and peace. That’s why I use the hashtag #hennaforhumanity because I truly believe it is something that can unite people, despite any differences. 


You also do a lot of Henna on books, stones and other materials. How did this start and where can we find these wonderful gifts?

This started back in 2013 as a bit of an experiment when I tried painting henna designs on candles and then it kind of just took off! I use acrylic paint for my henna inspired artwork, which is applied through a cone in the same way that henna is. I absolutely love creating this artwork – especially the wedding guest books which I get asked to do quite frequently.


You can find me on Facebook and Instagram as @beyondhenna. My website is currently under construction along with an online shop, but if you keep up to date with me on social media, I’ll be sure to announce when these are live! 


Thank you Sabah! You can find all of Sabah’s beautiful work and get in touch with her below;

FacebookSabah Ismail – Art & Thoughts

InstagramBeyond Henna

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