The Zanzibar Henna Art project was born in a small studio space at the top of an old family house on Hurumzi St. in Stone Town, Zanzibar when a group of women who spent their lives perfecting the art of henna body painting were empowered with the skills to develop a new art form on paper and canvas in 2007. This original and new art form emerged through the Henna Body Art to Canvas project.
The first workshop taught nine henna painters the basic elements of visual art and the principles of drawing. The second workshop produced a collection of works on canvas that were purchased by the Vipaji Foundation, who exhibited the paintings around the world in 2008-2009. In addition, Mark Bessire, then the director of the Bates College Museum of Art, purchased 4 of those works which the Bates Museum has loaned to this exhibition.
Uniquely Zanzibari, Henna Canvas Art combines the centuries old custom of henna body painting with the spirit of contemporary art and design. The Zanzibar Henna artists preserve the traditional henna motifs such as bold floral patterns (customary at Swahili weddings and religious festivals) while also employing modern techniques, stunning colors and personal creativity to paint works on canvas.
The lives of Mwana, Sherry, Kaiza, Jamila, and Saada are transforming as a result of this economically empowering project. The womens’ work on canvas is on sale at their gallery on Hurumzi St., where you can still find them painting in their studio on the top floor.
The artists were asked to provide information both about themselves and the work. Below are a few from Zanzibar followed by some from Maine. Many thanks to Desmond Mushi from Bates, who provided the translations from Swahili.
I have used water colors. I cut the rubber into chicken, zebra, and elephant designs (or shapes). I used a knife to shape the rubber into the above designs. I then colors the animal designs and then put them on a paper as if they were stamps and used my hand to draw the grasses.
My name is Jamila Mzee and I was born in the year 1977. I attended primary school from the year 1985 to 1995. After completing my primary school education, I took art classes from the year 1996 to 1999 at the school called Nyumba ya Sanaa Mwanamkwere (the Mwanamkwere house of art). After graduating at Mwanamkwere, I started doing art and I have attended many workshops such as ‘henna painting,’ printing and many expeditions. Art is and has always been the dream of my life.
The studies about ‘henna’ painting have truly developed my talent. Previously I did not have any ‘formal’ knowledge with regard to art and all I did (art) was out of talent gifted to me by God. The art of printing has tremendously enhanced my art. This is because with printing, I am able to make different kinds of art, present them and at times sell them for my personal and professional development.
I am Asya Jaffar Suwed I started drawing in 2001 when I am 11 years old. I drew just because I liked drawing and am happy when I am drawing, but I was studying and drawing until now I am imporved for some how, like now how to print, paint and water color paper but I am still study in University of Zanzibar financial. All in all my dreams and my aim is to be a good artist in this world because I want to help the people especially young people to get a fond desire in drawing. Thank you.
I draw this picture which indicate birds, trees because all of these depend each other also its important to our life too. It is the nice place, so we must protect the forest because trees, animals have alot of avantages, they give us fertile soil, food etc. In this picture I used water color,brush, corn and acrylic.
My Zanzibar collaborator, Chala, chose a palette of cool greens and created beautifully stylized plant forms using a block print method. My desire was to extend and enlarge her imagery by cutting and repeating stencils that referred to her forms but simply in the derivative. I wanted to completely fill the space of the paper in a dialog that spoke to both her interpretation of object and my own, allowing our individual voices to speak and also to meld together in a union of imagery that reflected our individual sensibilities.
I came to know the Zanzibar print I worked with as a chapel, temple or sanctuary representing a place one goes to find hope, inspiration safety and joy. The doors of the image invite passage between inside and outside. The doors open to a recessed knitted space. The fabric passes through the doors indicating an exchange. Possibly an exchange of ones time, or the passing of one moment to the next, or perhaps a pilgrimage from here to somewhere else. Like the ocean between Zanzibar and Portland, water in the form of woven prints pours to and from the image. The collaboration with Zanzibar brings together individuals from different places to make a whole new creative experience. Art is the link between two sets of strangers from near and far and here and there.
It was very exciting to receive the work from our sisters in Zanzibar but a little daunting to work over another artist's artwork. Mwana's two images were that of a turtle surrounded by leaves and flowers. I made a number of Xerox stencils and inked them up in various colors, printing them with the paper lithograph technique. I took my color cues from the turtle Mwana printed with ribbons of hot pink running throughout.
When I received my print created by Sherry, it seemed complete, finished. So it sat on my studio desk for some time while I considered a respectful way to collaborate that would honor the artist’s effort, yet have something of my process in it. In the end I opted for trying to create a work that was an extension of what I thought the artist might create if the print were part of series. I left the elements that I thought most clearly articulated a vision and further developed other areas to match that vision. This of course, without speaking to the artist, is entirely subjective. Yet it seemed to me that there was both a spiritual dimension to Sherry’s work and one that reveled in pattern and balance. I chose gold leaf to accent that sacred quality and repeated the bird forms to create a textile-like pattern.
Continue to the next page for pictures of the opening and installation of the show.
* A percentage of the proceeds from the sale of prints in this show will be sent to Women Networking, so that they may purchase additional supplies for their artwork, as well as to the Portland English as a Second Language Scholarship Fund (PESL); The mission of PESL is to help local immigrants and refugees gain the English language skills necessary to achieve their post-secondary educational goals in the United States. For more information about PESL please visit: www.peslsf.org
This project is funded in part by a grant from the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.
In addition to the Maine Arts Commission, the Peregrine Press would like to thank the following for their support of this project: American Embassy in Dar Es Salaam, Bates College Museum of Art, Portland Public Library, Maine Historical Society, Artist and Craftsmen Supply, Aimee and Mark Bessire, Honory Jerome, Desmond Ngarami Mushi, Kaiza Mohamed, Steven Podgajny, Laura Savard, Francesca Steele, and Rachel Weyand.