Hafsah Zamir-Khan talks to Farrah Azam of Bespoke Henna about inspiration, process and well-being.
Hafsah Zamir-Khan: Please tell us about your background and the inception of Bespoke Henna.
Farrah Azam: As a graduate In Criminology and Psychology, my background is not one you would immediately associate with an artist. Although I have never studied art, I have always had a creative flair and only decided to put this into practice after I got married and had my beautiful son Zayd. While having my hands tied with a newborn, my lifestyle had become repetitive and I needed a creative outlet to de-stress. This is what led to the creation of Bespoke Henna. I wouldn’t say I am a henna artist per se as I don’t like to be labelled with anything that restricts my potential. Instead, I prefer to think of myself as an artist who is inspired by henna.
HZK: You say that you have never liked henna on your hands: what made you enrol in the Ash Kumar course? And you say that you were never really artistic, and even that you were one of the worst in the Ash Kumar class, it’s amazing to see how much you have achieved. How did you discover your talent?
FA: Don’t get me wrong, I think henna on the body looks beautiful in the primary stage. I’ve always loved freshly applied henna on the skin, when it has that striking three-dimensional effect. It is the fading phase that I dislike, when the stain becomes an orange-yellow colour. I enrolled in the Ash Kumar course because I love henna patterns; I particularly like paisley and floral motifs which are commonly used in henna designs. I also find the application of henna incredibly therapeutic. With regards to “discovering my talent”, I really don’t believe I had an instinctive talent; rather, it was just something I enjoyed and decided to spend many hours practising which in turn improved the quality of my work.
HZK: Your henna designs seem very different from Kumar’s style. Your work has a charm about it; it somehow feels both contemporary and yet classical at the same time. What are you inspirations?
FA: Although I was trained by Ash Kumar, what I learnt is quite different to what I do now. We learnt Body Art henna techniques and how to make henna cones, much of which I don’t put into practice in my work today. That said, it was a great foundation for embarking on this wonderful journey. I do agree that my designs are contemporary yet classical and have an ‘East meets West’ feel about them. I believe this infusion is a result of my own British Pakistani upbringing. I travel a lot and many of my inspirations come from my adventures, which can range from a painting in a museum to a coaster in a traditional Moroccan cafe! Inspiration is everywhere. I have always been fascinated by Eastern and Islamic Art and would attribute my greatest influences to these culturally rich art forms.
HZK: Most henna artists prefer to use acrylic paint when not painting on the body, but you use real henna on your products, applying paint only for embellishment. Why is this? Isn’t it more challenging to work with?
FA: I like to use real henna for the majority of my work because I feel it gives it more of a classical and ethnic look. The result is also more three-dimensional than what I achieve with acrylic paints. It’s a lot more challenging working with actual henna as the process is more tedious and involves numerous stages.
HZK: What would you say are your biggest achievements so far?
FA: Probably the vast media exposure Bespoke Henna has been fortunate to receive in the past few years. I was invited as a guest on several television shows and have also been interviewed by numerous magazines and newspapers to talk about Bespoke Henna. Last year, CNN news featured one of my images on their Eid gallery which was quite exciting! I also feel very proud of the training academy I set up in October 2013, which has been a great success.
HZK: What challenges have you faced since you began Bespoke Henna?
FA: Sometimes it’s difficult managing my time and putting all my ideas into practice. I feel there aren’t enough hours in the day, and I’m often awake all night trying to meet deadlines. But as the saying goes, no pressure no diamonds!
HZK: You’ve said that you find painting on candles therapeutic. Do you feel that your work is an effective outlet for stress and has it helped you during difficult times in your life?
FA: I definitely feel it’s an outlet for stress and has been a source of great comfort in difficult times. When I’m working, I feel switched off from negative thoughts because my work requires a lot of concentration. I also enjoy it very much which naturally lifts my mood.
HZK: Much of your work seems to have Qur’anic ayahs incorporated into it and is reflective of the deen. How do you feel this has helped you in your work along the way?
FA: I think my religion has helped me on my journey in so many ways. Not only in terms of inspiration, but also in terms of how to conduct business in an Islamic and ethical manner. I believe that in order to be successful, passion and talent aren’t the only requirements – one must also carry out one’s financial dealings with integrity and must always be thankful and humble for what one has.
HZK: Tell us about how you’ve been using your business for charitable purposes for the recent events in Gaza.
FA: In the month of Ramadhan, when the atrocities in Gaza were at their peak, I decided to donate all revenue from my business to the victims. I was fortunate enough to get in touch with a doctor who was able to successfully get the money into Gaza. Much of the money was used to provide psychological support for traumatised children in Shifa hospital. On ‘Eid, children were given gifts and fun activities were arranged for them. It was incredibly heart-warming and humbling to be sent images of the children smiling after all the suffering they had faced and are still facing every day. I also designed ‘Free Palestine’ T-shirts which were very popular, completely selling out within just a few days. I donated 100% of the proceeds to Ummah Welfare Trust. I was lucky to have friends to support me in this project, may Allah reward them for their contribution.
HZK: How do you balance motherhood and your business? What advice would you give to mothers who feel that they cannot work whilst they raise children?
FA: It’s definitely something that I’ve had to get used to. Compromises have to be made, my own biggest compromise
being sleep! I am often working throughout the night and have to catch up on sleep during the day. My son has recently started school full-time which means I now have more time on my hands. The best thing about having your own business is that you can work at your own pace. There are weeks that I’m working intensely, but there are also weeks that I can go on holiday with my family and take a break. The flexibility is what makes it perfect for mothers. Continual support from family and friends is very important and is the reason I have been able to balance motherhood and my business adequately.
HZK: What are your future plans for Bespoke Henna?
FA: I would love to work more on garments such as the Palestine T-shirt designs I designed and would like to be involved in some sort of mass production for my designs. I have also done several collaborations over the past two years and would love to work with more exceptionally talented artists.
HZK: Thank you for sharing your time with us Farrah. SISTERS wishes you all the best for the bright future of Bespoke Henna. To learn more about Bespoke Henna and to see more of her designs visit www.bespokehenna.com. She is also on Facebook and Instagram.
Originally published in SISTERS magazine, April 2015