Approximately one in eight women in the U.S. will experience invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. And in 2018, an estimated 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in the U.S., along with 63,960 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer.
It’s important to work towards a cure that will save lives. It’s also important to find ways to support and cheer on those who are battling breast cancer. Popular Chicago henna artist Maliha swirls her classic mehndi into crowns for patients experiencing hair loss as a result of chemotherapy. Mehndi is decorative body art using a paste created from the powdered dry leaves of the henna plant; once the paste is washed away, the beautiful patterns remain for 1-3 weeks. We caught up with Mahila and chatted with her about identity, henna, and empowering people through art.
Maliha, what does identity mean to you?
I think of identity as a personal context defined by unique qualities, characteristics, morals and values. The foundation of my identity consists of multiple layers and continues to build and transition with time. My family, childhood experiences, morals and values have helped me transform into who I am and identify as today.
How do you engage with your own identity?
I engage with my own identity through my values and the way I chose to present myself as an American Muslim, while still appreciating my religion and ethnic background. I value freedom of expression through creative outlets such as applying henna, the ability to work and be independent as well as the freedom of religion by wearing hijab.
Can you share a short personal story that illustrates what “identity” means to you?
Growing up, my parents taught my sisters and me to practice our religious duties and morals, to value and respect ourselves and others. When I first made the decision to start wearing hijab, I was not concerned about what others thought about me, or worried about encountering racism or discrimination. With choosing to wear the hijab, I was also ready to tackle any obstacles and challenges that would question my identity.
Tell us a story about the most important influencer in your life thus far.
The most important influencer in my life is my mom. She is a benevolent, amiable, hard-working, strong women who goes above and beyond to assist those in need, especially the underprivileged. There have multiple occasions where she has left me speechless through acts of kindness. Whenever she comes across a homeless person or someone in need of clothes or food, she never hesitates or refrains from helping them. With an open heart she will give them what she thinks they would benefit them, whether it be money, food, water, clothes, or a something as simple as a blessing or a word of encouragement.
What do you like best about applying henna?
Applying henna provides me a platform for artistic freedom.
When clients let me freehand my own design, it gives me the ability to put my own touch of intricate details to create fun and unique designs that compliment the client. It is a way for me to escape from the busy world and enter a therapeutic state where I can express myself through my artwork.
I always look forward to my clients’ reactions once the design is complete. Seeing the genuine smiles on their faces and hearing their positive feedback is what encourages me to continue my passion for applying henna.
Tell us about your first experience applying henna.
My first experience with henna was in third grade. My teacher asked me to draw out a henna design for an article she was putting together explaining Ramadan and Eid for the school magazine.
At first, I remember being hesitant and telling her I did not know how to draw henna designs. But with her encouragement, I was able to put together a few designs that were featured with the article.
That same year, in preparation for Eid, I remember getting my henna done and being so fascinated by it that I quietly remained to observe others getting their henna done for a few hours. My interest in henna developed at a young age, and it was my mother who encouraged me to pursue that interest.
How did you learn how to apply henna?
It took lots of practice and patience to learn. I started off by making designs on paper with a pen, then gradually transitioned to henna on paper, to finally feeling comfortable enough to apply henna on the hands of my family and friends.
Tell us more about the Henna Crowns initiative.
The initiative of the henna crowns is to make those who have been affected by cancer to feel special and beautiful. Aside from being a henna artist, I am also a Respiratory Therapist (RT) and work directly with individuals who have cancer and who have experienced the side effects of chemotherapy. I had been searching for opportunities to integrate my passion for henna with my career as an RT to give back to the community. Providing henna artistry for individuals who have been affected by cancer was the perfect opportunity to merge both careers and my passions together.
Why is it important to you?
This is my first time providing this service, but it means a lot to me to uplift women and girls who have suffered extreme pain or difficulty by providing a fun and memorable experience for them. One of the most obvious side effects of chemotherapy is hair loss, which can exact a huge emotional toll. I want to provide a service that helps patients reclaim their beauty and happiness.
How long does it typically take to apply henna crowns?
Henna crowns take between an hour to 90 minutes to apply. To make the most of this experience for both myself and the client, I want to take the time to ensure they receive meaningful art.
Prior to the henna application, I do a mini consultation to gauge what the clients need. Then we choose where they would like for the henna to be applied (hands, arm, or crown region of their head). Once the henna is applied, it needs 30-45 minutes for the paste to dry. Afterwards, the henna should be left on for 4-8 hours to properly allow the henna to stain the skin. Since the paste is made of 100% natural ingredients, the henna reaches its best color after 24-48 hours with proper after-care. For optimal results, soap and water should be used cautiously as it causes the henna to fade quickly.
Is there an age requirement?
There is no age requirement as long as you have parental approval if you are a minor.
How long does henna last?
Natural henna can last anywhere from five days to two weeks depending on how well the client takes care of it. One of my clients did such a phenomenal job taking care of her henna that it lasted for three weeks!
How can people get in contact with you?