Behind Farrah Azam – Bespoke Henna

I am originally Pakistani, although I was born and raised in London, UK. I studied Psychology and Criminology at the University which is far from the artistic flare I have developed over the past years. I got married very soon after graduating, and was blessed with a beautiful baby boy. I am a full time wife and mother, and although this is a very fulfilling and rewarding role to play, I would often find I was hungry for a creative outlet. I began to hunt for something original and stimulating to do, and after some searching around, I was drawn to a henna course with world leading henna artist Ash Kumar. Most of what I learned on the course was Body Art technique and is very different to the henna work I am doing now, but I believe it was a good starting point. At some point during practice, I remember painting on a piece of paper as I had run out of hands to paint on. Once it had dried, I thought to myself, “this looks so attractive and very elegant, I have to find a way to somehow seal and preserve this on its surface, perhaps frame it or gift it” and so the research and testing began. The rest as they say is history.

I have only ever done Body Art as a hobby and never really as a profession. I made the decision to focus entirely on the concept of painting henna on canvas and home décor because I only want to be associated with this type of work. I took the henna course approximately 2 years ago and I would admit to being one of the worst in my class. I think it took me about 6 months of intense practice to become confident in what I do; otherwise I am still attempting to perfect my skill this very day. The business itself stemmed from a Facebook page, and is currently doing really well Alhamdulillah.

My travels play a considerable role in the origins of my inspiration for my work. My Islamic heritage is beautifully rich in culture and wide ranging forms of art so finding inspiration isn’t too challenging. I can often be inspired by anything from the distinct architecture on a mosque minaret, to the hand cut tile in a hotel washroom as crazy as that sounds! I am currently most inspired by Turkish Iznik Art; a fusion of Arabesque patterns and Chinese elements, it is visually stunning. I am also very fond of geometrical patterning; I have attempted to recreate this effect on a few of my pieces.

Living in the west, I believe there is a lack of acknowledgment and appreciation for henna. It is currently very much an East African/Asian phenomena, and so I suppose I have taken the responsibility to be a part of changing this common perception. I want for henna’s use to be recognized in all forms of culture so I have created an East meets West vintage range. The designs typically consist of love birds, roses, lilies and lots of swirly designs. The response has been fantastic, perhaps because the mix of traditional henna with other cultural forms of art is easier to relate to for those who are not so familiar with it; in essence it becomes less conventional.

The time it takes me to complete a piece varies between products. The process itself is lengthy. It begins with the initial henna design which often takes up to 12 hours to dry, followed by the application of colour, then the process of sealing with various non toxic substances, which is repeated to establish durability. So all in all pretty time consuming practice, often spread out over the course of a few days. It’s not easy with such an active toddler! I do most of my work whilst he is asleep and in the weekends. I am also very blessed to have the support of my friends and family without whom it would be difficult to do what I do.

Motherhood takes up the majority of my time, so any free time is spent working. Even when I’m not painting I’m constantly conjuring up new ideas about designs that would work well, organizing my time efficiently, practicing on new surfaces, liaising with clients… it can get pretty hectic! I’ve just begun painting on fabric. I intend to re-create my designs on cushion covers, tote bags and throws, so currently developing the portfolio. I am also considering to mass produce some of my existing work on to stationary and possibly something interior design related. I am keen to collaborate with calligraphists. There are still lots of avenues to explore. I think opening a shop during this recession period is probably a bad idea for anybody! Over time I’ve come to realize that presence online and at events work best for me.

Farrah Azam

www.bespokehenna.com

Hayati Magazine

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