The ritual of henna dates back centuries, with some of the earlier uses found in Egypt around 9,000 years ago. It’s long been applied to dye skin, hair, fingernails and materials including silk and cottons; it adorns bodies and hair, while transcending cultures and locations from the Arabian peninsula, India, plus North, West, Central and East Africa.
It’s also the focus point to a platform named HuqThat, founded by Sabira Haque and Nuz Fatima, in celebration of ancient body art rituals using henna. “In a tradition which is most commonly associated with weddings, HuqThat was created to provide a more accessible platform to henna art for all, whatever the occasion, and a safe space for queer and non-binary people to have access to the rituals of henna too,” Sabira tells It’s Nice That. And, since launching, not only has HuqThat provided an accessible space for others to be authentically themselves, it has also had work featured in the pages of publications including Sleek, Vice, Guardian, Coeval, The Face, Azeema and Guap, and they’ve worked with brands like Nike, Converse, Byredo and Beatsbydre.
Of how they came to found HuqThat, it all began after they’d met at a queer event in 2017; a friendship blossomed instantly, and they connected both culturally and artistically. Sabira, a multidisciplinary artist working across art direction, henna and styling, grew up with dual heritage, “being both British and brown”, she tells us. Nuz, with an “unusual route” into the arts by way of policy making and political strategy, grew up doing henna at her local mosque for Eid celebrations. They cover a range of skills creativity, but it’s their shared personal experiences that really bring them together. For instance, both Sabira and Nuz felt like they had to do a “lot of unlearning” in their adult life, especially in terms of finding their community. “Henna as a ritual naturally felt close to our identity,” says Nuz. “It’s a form of expression for us, almost like jewellery.”
Since working with henna, the pair have realised the versatility of the medium – it doesn’t have a certain race or religion, nor is it associated with a specific region. With this in mind, HuqThat celebrates the ritual of henna through fashion and commercial styling, artist collaborations, pop ups, and henna for all sorts of occasions, like events and parties. When taking on a project, the team first figures out the vision and fits the work accordingly – every part of their output is bespoke. “We don’t just put random henna patterns on,” explains Sabira. “It has to coincide and work together aesthetically and visually with the full look. This means it can be very abstract as well as being very intricate. This is dependant on the vibe of the project.” Inspiration comes from a mix of sources such as tribal women with tattoos, traditional fruits and shapes, traditional jewellery, tile work, architecture and garment cuts.
A recent example of the platform’s celebratory work can be seen in the visuals for Joy Crookes’ music video, feat don’t fail me now. HuqThat spent nine hours in the singer’s sitting room with her cat Diago, listening to gawali by Nusret Fateh Ali Khan “and just vibing”, says Nuz. Joy creatively directed and the team brought the vision to life through the art of henna, in turn producing a dreamy and deeply saturated set of visuals that showcases Joy’s dual Irish and Bangladesh heritage. “Henna as a medium is so freeing,” concludes Sabira, “just like paint.”
GalleryCopyright © HuqThat, 2022
Copyright © HuqThat, 2022
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.