Body Adornment - The Art Of Mehndi At Dewsbury Museum

By Corinne Field | 14 September 2004
Shows a photograph of a woman's hands, palm up. Each hand is decorated with a different mehndi pattern.

Examples of bridal mehndi. Courtesy of Kirklees Metropolitan Council

Body Adornment and Ceremony, a photographic exhibition all about mehndi, is on show at Dewsbury Museum until February 6, 2005.

Mehndi is the art of applying henna on the body. This form of temporary body decoration is traditionally practiced by men and women in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East and is generally used for special occasions like weddings.

However in recent years mehndi has been popularised as a fashion accessory by Hollywood personalities and western pop stars. But its portrayal as a temporary tattoo trivialises its historical and cultural context and this exhibition tries to explore those areas and at the same time show how younger generations have modernised an old tradition.

Shows a photograph of a South Asian bride. She is wearing a bright pink sari and gold jewellery. Her hands are decorated with mehndi.

Examples of bridal mehndi. Courtesy of Kirklees Metropolitan Council

"Mehndi has become an exciting art form. It used to be an art passed down through the generations in family groups, there was no formal training," explained Community Education Officer Carmen Taylor who researched the exhibition.

"Now there are courses and certificates in mehndi and it has become a profession which more women are taking up. There is great competition as regards the intricacies of the pattern, the quality and colour of the design and the speed in which it is completed."

Carmen said the exhibition was also important as a record of some of the patterns of mehndi.

"It is temporary skin decoration and each is a unique piece of art. If you don't get a record of it, that work of art fades away and is gone forever," she added.

Shows a photo of a hand with a pattern of curves and swirls painted on.

Examples of bridal mehndi. Courtesy of Kirklees Metropolitan Council

Researched and designed by the Kirklees Community History Service, Body Adornment and Ceremony looks at the history, myths and legends of mehndi. It focuses on South Asian mehndi in Kirklees, in particular wedding preparations, which involve painting the bride’s hands and feet with intricate henna patterns.

The exhibition includes photographs, many loaned by local South Asian brides, illustrating the various designs as well as interviews with local women and mehndi artists like Joshiv Taglani – recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the fastest mehndi artist in the world, and specially commissioned poetry by Jeanne Ellin.

Shows a woman's arms, one palm up, one palm down. They have been decorated with mehndi as far as the elbow.

Examples of bridal mehndi. Courtesy of Kirklees Metropolitan Council

Body Adornment and Ceremony was funded by the Yorkshire Museums, Libraries and Archive Council in celebration of the Year of Cultural Diversity. It was produced in conjunction with a Calderdale Museums exhibition that looks at permanent tattoos, Tattoo You, to illustrate the traditions of different cultures.

After its stint at Dewsbury, the exhibition will tour other Kirklees museums. A book of artwork from both the Kirklees and Calderdale exhibitions has been produced and will be available to visitors to the show.

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