Welcome to Soma Chatterji of Mehndi by Soma. She joined us for the first time in September and offered the most beautiful henna designs. I had been wanting one for quite a while and was really glad to learn that Soma was joining us because I had been following her design work through friends who had enjoyed her temporary henna mehndi work at events around the city. My gorgeous mehndi (henna art) was on my forearm and lasted strong for almost two weeks!
Soma is back for this Sunday's event which is perfect timing for anyone who would like a personalized design that can be incorporated into their Halloween costume - or just a trial of a more permanent body art design.
Let's learn more about Soma and her work!
Soma! Some shoppers are familiar with henna art but for those who aren't can you give us a quick background on the art and culture behind Mehndi and how you got started in offering it.
Mehndi, which is the artwork done with henna, is a popular form of body art in much of the Asian Subcontinent, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Middle East, some north African countries such as Egypt and Morocco and several other countries through the regions. Henna Lawsonia is a flowering plant. The leaves are dried, powdered, then made into a paste with natural ingredients, such as water and line juice. Traditionally, henna paste was used as a conditioner-- for brittle nails, dried out skin (on hands and feet) and hair. Later, the paste was used decoratively. In India, the mehndi night is a popular tradition for women during weddings. It's a time during the wedding week that the women get together, get mehndi done and essentially sit back and relax-- giving up daily working chores for the time.
I spent a few years in India in the latter part of my teenages. Between the ages of 17 and 19, I learned under a friend who did it more professionally. Since the age of 19, I have been doing many different types of events for 10 years.
Your designs are each unique but you do ask customers to give you input as to size, location, and their desired design style - what should someone expect if they've never had mehndi before?
Absolutely. Different sizes are different prices, so that people have a little flexibility as to what they are getting/trying. Hands (the back and the palm) are the best place to get the mehndi done. The palm stains the longest and the darkest because the skin there needs the most conditioning (think about it like hand cream). The designs are traditional- I ask if they like floral patterns, etc- but I do not do patterns akin to face-paint or tattoos. The feet and ankle area stains dark too, but it's hard when you are walking around.
What is the general care for a new design?
1. The henna used stains orange, not black, as it is made from an herbal paste, not ink.
2. Allow at least 30 minutes for henna to dry. Try hard not to smudge it!
3. Henna will slowly dry and crack (imagine having wet mud on your hands that dries over time).
4. Gently scrape the dry henna off. Within an hour, everything should be pretty dry.
5. Do not wash your hands for at least a few hours (3 or more) after henna is scraped off.
6. Your henna pattern will be a light orange and will darken through the day until it is a darker brown shade.
7. The pattern will stay on your hands for 3 to 7 days.
You have a great perspective on Pittsburgh as someone who didn't grow up in this city. What neighborhood do you currently reside in and what is the most interesting aspect of your neighborhood to you - possibly influenced by your experience having grown up in a bigger city?
I'm currently living in Friendship. I like the set up of the block we live on-- nice homes with families around our age. There are a lot of trees and not too much traffic on our street. We are friends with a lot of our neighbors. I've been lucky that way in the big cities too (NYC, where I was born and brought up and Calcutta, where I was for about 4 years in my late teens). We always rented or owned an apartment, but never a house, so the small house my husband and I rent is a nice change.
Where can we find you working your mehndi design magic around the city?
Traveling to venues or people's homes is the best way for me to do mehndi. Imagine wanted to get some henna art (mehndi) done, on your arms and feet, but you had to travel to a location-- it would take a long time to dry and it would be inconvenient to travel back. Instead, I meet people for their events at a venue of convenience. I like to consider myself a cultural ambassador of sorts, so I do not only target big, Indian weddings. Instead, I have done events at High Schools, Colleges, graduations parties, weddings of all cultures, religious events, flea markets, art markets, bachelorette parties, birthday parties, or even a simple ladies night out. The list goes on, and I cater prices to the size and location of the event. I've done henna one-on-one all the way to 500+ person parties. People usually contact me via email, we get some stuff figured out and then have fun!