top of page
  • Writer's pictureTanya

Henna: cultural misappropriation or cultural appreciation?

Updated: Apr 27, 2019

I started my “Henna has no borders” campaign because I wanted to show that henna was for more than just Asian women and weddings. “Henna has no borders” was born eight months ago now. In this time we’ve had the pleasure of applying henna on so many unique personalities, and across countries, too.

Kenyan lady wearing henna
We had the pleasure of applying henna to a Kenyan lady in Nairobi

However, the campaign really came into its own when we were – ironically – at the Asian Woman Festival, and a non-Asian woman asked whether it was okay for her to have some henna done. This really shocked me, as my main client base is non-Asian! It was the first time someone had asked for permission; their reason for doing so was fear of cultural misappropriation.

Henna on men
At the Asian Woman Festival, we adorned men with henna too!

This idea of cultural misappropriation is truly alien to me, especially as an Asian woman who was born and brought up in Kenya, and has lived in the UK for the last 20 years. My background is so beautifully entwined with three different cultures!

Cultural misappropriaion or cultural appreciation?
Cultural appreciation: I am proud of my background and show that in what I wear. Here, I'm wearing a dress and earrings made in Kenya and a hair piece representing my Asian culture.

In my opinion, as society becomes more fluid, both culturally and with gender, sexuality, and faith, there will always be an element of this that’s shared and enjoyed by others. And why not?

When someone wears something from another culture, it is because that item is being appreciated. It should be cultural appreciation, instead of misappropriation.

Mindful mendhi
At the Mindful Mendhi event, we spoke to women about how mindful henna went beyond just henna.

One example is that kanga fabrics from Kenya are being used to make beautiful garments, bags, shoes and napkins – all of which can be bought by tourists. Does that mean that the traditional kanga material, adorned with their phrases, are objects of cultural misappropriation? No… it’s cultural appreciation!

The same could be said for yoga: an ancient practice that’s now so popular in the west. Here, there is a great appreciation for the practice, and it’s highly revered for its benefits!

So, why can’t we see henna that way too? Henna is simply another medium of paint, only it can be used on the skin to decorate oneself. Just as art is used as a form of expression, henna be worn in the same way – on men, as well as women. For belly blessings and henna crowns as well as for weddings. And especially because people love having henna!

Let’s celebrate ourselves, no matter our race, creed, sexuality, gender, age, music preference… you get my gist! Whoever you are, henna is for you. I want you to know that I love sharing my art with you, and I want to celebrate its heritage, roots and new meanings with you.

Because henna has no borders.



bottom of page