Friday, September 8, 2017

From My Files 4: Four Centuries of Moroccan Jewish Henna

I just returned from a brief trip to Berkeley to celebrate the opening of a museum exhibition on Moroccan Jewish art that I helped research: The Invisible Museum: History and Memory of Morocco. It's open all this year until Jun 29, 2018, so if you're in the Bay Area I would highly recommend visiting it! Unfortunately there's no henna in the exhibit, but we do have some magnificent examples of the keswa el-kbira, the multilayered gold-and-velvet dress worn during the henna ceremony, which I've featured on this blog before

Moroccan henna dresses in the Magnes collection, on display in the exhibit.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

From My Files 3: The Oldest Record of Henna

From My Files, week 3! This week we're going back in time to find the earliest record of henna... Where and when did it begin — India? Africa? Babylonia? Google searches only reveal a black hole of contradictions and misinformation.

Where? Where???
There are few records of henna in the ancient world, and scholars face significant challenges, including the lack of archaeological evidence and confusion over what henna was called in different areas of the world, as well as having to face centuries of henna being overlooked by historians as insignificant or unworthy of serious study. We have only begun to piece together the scattered fragments of evidence for how henna was used in the ancient world... To learn more about henna in the Bible and the ancient Levant, in the Hellenistic world, and in ancient Egypt, see here.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

From My Files 2: Henna in the Museum

From My Files, week 2! Let's keep the momentum going.

Building off of last week's post, which featured a genipa fruit in a 17th century museum, this week I thought I would share some examples that I've come across of henna in museums around the world. Feel free to add in the comments: have you ever come across henna in a museum? As a student of Museum Studies, I've always been fascinated by combining two of my interests, and I would love to plan a museum exhibit on henna around the world... One day! What would you put in a museum exhibit on henna?

Of course, there are many examples of art depicting henna in museums around the world (for some examples previously examined in the blog, see herehere, and here), but we are not going to attempt to survey this in this brief post. Another category that we could put in our hypothetical henna exhibit are what might be termed henna paraphernalia, or objects related to henna or used during henna application. 

Henna gourd from West Africa, Smithsonian Museum of African Art
For example, in this post I have an example of a zunguru, or calabash gourd filled with henna paste, used in West Africa to cover the arms with henna; this post has an example of a sang-e ḥanā, "henna stone" or stool to rest one's feet on after they've been hennaed, which was common in Persia and the Ottoman Empire; and this post shows a Jewish henna cloth, known as pishandaz-e ḥana, from Afghanistan.

Friday, July 21, 2017

From My Files 1: Some Jagua History

It's been a while since my last blog. The truth is that I've been very busy with my doctoral program and I haven't had time to research and write the lengthy articles as in the past. But I'm going through my henna files in preparation for HennaCon 2017 and thought I'd post some shorter snippets of interesting history... So welcome to the first instalment of this "From My Files" series! My goal is to post one a week from now until Henna Con — that's only 12 weeks away!!! Can you believe it? So feel free to check in every week (you can subscribe by email, or follow us on Facebook), and let the countdown begin!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Fingernail Flower: Henna in China

The question of henna use in China has come up many times in my research, and I finally decided to address it... My obvious hesitation is that I have no background in Sinology or Chinese Studies, no knowledge of any Chinese language, and no ability to do primary research in the field. 

However, I have always maintained that my goal is not to become the ultimate authority on the history of henna in every place and every time; rather, I want to demonstrate the richness, diversity, and depth of henna’s history in order to open the door to conversation and further research. With that goal in mind, therefore, I’ve put together a few sources that I’ve found, and I invite you to contribute your own! I hope that this becomes a starting point for someone else’s research. I should acknowledge here my fellow henna artist Connie and my fellow PhD student Eric for their assistance in navigating Chinese history.

A taste of the difficulties facing even scholars of Chinese culture can be seen in a conversation that happened in 1868 in the pages of the scholarly journal Notes and Queries on China and Japan. Theophilus Sampson, a British official and botanist in southern China (writing under the pseudonym Cantoniensis, “from Canton,” now Guangdong Province), published a brief note entitled “Henna in China” in which he explained that the henna plant (Lawsonia inermis) was commonly grown in the Guangdong province and that it is called zhijiahua (as he writes, “chih-kiah-hwa”), “finger nail flower.” However, he added, it was used as a dye only by the Hakka people in Guangdong and not the Punti.