Social Responsibility and Supporting BIPOC Henna Artists

Henna Caravan unequivocally supports our sisters and brothers in the henna world, and specifically Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. We appreciate the gift of henna that has been passed to us by such a generous community, and we are committed to being part of a henna community that supports BIPOC in an impactful, sustainable and ongoing way. 

How are we doing this?

  • Nurture and amplify melanated voices through our channels by actively seeking out artists across the globe. We have been sharing visual and musical artists in our instagram stories, and will expand this to include blog posts and collaborations that last longer than 24 hours. 
  • Continue to donate to two charities that help women of color, the Malala Fund and Direct Relief International Midwife Fund. We began supporting these organizations personally a decade ago and designated them as our philanthropic beneficiaries in 2018. The Malala Fund supports high school education for girls in Pakistan, while Direct Relief provides medical supplies and support to local doctors in areas of humanitarian crisis.
  • Provide additional scholarships to future HennaCon events specifically for BIPOC individuals. While in the past we have not taken ethnicity into account for our scholarships, we acknowledge this is a particularly impactful way to support a small BIPOC-owned business.
  • Increase the percentage of BIPOC instructors at HennaCon. BIPOC participation on the instructor team has historically been low due to a failure in our selection process. We realize many people thought that instructors were selected only by invitation, rather than an open call for applications, and as such we have missed out on the skills of many talented passionate teachers. Future events will use a hybrid system to determine the instructor team and we will prioritize BIPOC artists in our invitations.
  • Center BIPOC voices in discussions on how the global henna community can engage in the art restoratively rather than appropriatively. These discussions have in the past taken place at HennaCon, and we could have done better. We will explore the most productive ways to continue them in the future so that we can listen, learn, and create together. 
  • We commit to being open and available for continuing discussion. When we make mistakes (which we will), we welcome your response. Call us, email, text, send a letter. In whatever way you are comfortable, we are here to hear you. 
  • We will maintain a growth mindset and continue to work within this community to take actions that support the wellbeing of all henna artists. 

Those are our affirmations. We want you to know we are serious about them. We have always been serious about henna as a cultural art and a creative medium. We have studied under some of the most incredible artists in the world from Mumbai to London, and it is our wholesome wish to share this art with you, as it has been shared with us. 

I will end this post with a note of gratitude and acknowledgement.

We would not be here today were it not for the millions of women who came before us who maintained and shared the practice of henna. From Yemen and Oman, to Sudan and Mauritania, to Spain, Turkey, India, Malaysia, and beyond, women have adorned each other with the henna plant for thousands of years. But European colonization nearly destroyed this art.

During the height of colonial power, many of these traditions were suppressed and almost lost. Some parts of the world lost knowledge of the henna plant altogether, and instead use chemical hair dye because American companies wanted another profit center. Other parts of the world saw mehndi become old fashioned, a mark of low society simply because henna had no place in Western culture. Non-binary people were persecuted because the henna they would use to beautify themselves marked them out as “other”, a target of the powerful colonial machinery. And we know that these colonial forces have left ripples that are strongly felt today.

Were it not for Sumita Batra adorning Madonna in the early 90s with bindi and henna, it is very possible that this art would have continued to fade. Henna Caravan certainly wouldn’t exist the way it does now. What a tragedy, for colonial influence to eradicate something beautiful only for it to become a fashion trend by that same mechanism. 

So we thank Sumita, Neeta Sharma, Navneet Book Publications, Fatima Mernissi, Deepali Deshpande, Kiran Sahib, Kanchan MeriSakhi, Fatima Oulad-Thami, Riffat Bahar, and so many other exceptional artists who grew up with henna and shared their art with us when we were just getting started. In the coming weeks, we will be highlighting these and other artists here on the blog so that you can learn from them too.  

We are honored to be part of this community which is so generous. We are passionate about sharing this plant which brings so many together. And we thank you, all of you, for being part of this henna journey.

This conversation isn't over. 

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