AKA Lounge, Orlando, Florida • March 20, 2003
Carl F Gauze
I admit I knew precious little about Henna before I went to this art event and movie premier, but now I see it has a significant advantage over the oh-so-trendy chain-around-the-ankle tattoo. With regular tattoo ink, what’s cool at 25 could be deadly embarrassing at 45, but with henna, any ill-conceived fashion statement will gently exfoliate itself over the next few weeks, allowing a continuous updating of your personal look-du-jour with no inconvenient laser surgery.
Hennafest was more of an intimate party than anything else, but the promise of the press release announcing it was more than fulfilled. Despite warnings about starting at eight sharp, people sort of wandered around as the single skinny girl in the orange dress danced with herself until the projection began around 9ish. The center point of Hennafest is henna maven Barbee (no relation to the plastic one), an enthusiastic woman topped with a short yet blotchy hairdo. She has taken the traditional Eastern practice of henna body decoration and turned it into a semi-erotic art form. With a nice room temperature Framboise Lambic in hand, I huddled around the video monitor with the other initiates and watched a short but well-produced documentary on Barbee’s Quest For Body Decoration. OK, that’s not the right title, but I lost the filmmakers name as well, so it must have been a pretty decent party [Barbee Henna Artist, directed by Michael Lowrey -Ed.]. Between instructions for preparing and applying henna, there was a bit of history (very long indeed, henna may have been used in Neolithic time), a bit of philosophy, and a good bit of instruction on application, Barbee style. While traditional hennafication relies on various homemade sticks, squeeze bottles and little things that look like pastry decorators, Barbee tends to lean toward direct application with fingers. While the line work is not near as precise as more mechanical methods, there is a more spontaneous spirit to the results, especially when the area of application includes most of the subject’s available skin.
With the film done, a traditional belly dancer and a guy with a Celtic-looking drum slid onto the dance floor helping the DJ bring a good proportion of the crowd onto the floor. Now a plastic clad model with obligatory eyelid sparkle ascended the stage, and we received a live demo of the application process. The room got dark, the music got loud, and the henna went on, and everyone sort of hung around to inspect the process and result, and the consensus was unanimous — “Henna – GOOD”.
Well, henna has to dry on for a while to take full effect, so the model retired to the mysterious 3rd floor of the AKA, while Barbee went on to decorate a few of the willing patrons. It looked like a lot of fun, but I had to pass, as my day job isn’t that understanding. Music and darkness pervaded the space, and most of us hung out, oblivious to much worse things going on in the outside world. I won’t say the effect was ironic, but I’m glad I was there with friends, and not out somewhere else where the tradition was stronger but the energy more negative.
Information on henna is available from many places on the web such as www.hennapages.com
Barbee Cain, Henna Artist: http://barbeecain.com/