DochkanaThe following is an interview with G.Dochkana who has been working as a henna artist since 2012. Henna is a body art which originated in Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula. The artist is the first and only person working as a henna artist in Mongolia, which has been gaining popularity among young people, especially young women.

G.Dochkana, who works on the fifth floor of Ulaanbaatar Department Store, says it takes her 15 to 20 minutes on average to complete a complex henna design, which is typically drawn on the hands or feet. The artist said she wants to help people who can’t get tattoos by satisfying their curiosity through an alternative and temporary option: henna.

When did you become interested in pursuing a career as a henna artist?

I became interested in henna when I was a child. While watching an Indian film, I saw something drawn on some hands. I wondered if it was a tattoo or just a drawing. I even assumed that the Indian people were born with these patterns on their hands and feet. But this was only because I didn’t have much information about it. Later, in 2007, I became a student and got the opportunity to visit India, so I decided to learn more about henna.

It’s been nine years since I learned to draw henna. During this time, I tried applying it on myself and on my friends. I started doing it professionally four years ago.

Do you have to attend a special school or vocational training to become a professional henna artist?

People can learn anything as long as they are interested. Henna also requires a bit of artistry. Of course, it also requires guidance from a professional. The level of skill one reaches depends on the person and how much they practice. People who have an artistic mind and crafting skills tend to learn things and get the hang of things more quickly than others.

I was amazed by how fast you can draw henna. What did you study at university? Were you an artist before you became a henna artist?

I get this question a lot from visitors. Many people assume that I’m a professional artist or painter. My actual profession is completely different. I have a bachelor’s in economics and I plan to work as an economist in the future. At the moment, I want to continue to do what I enjoy and follow my hobby. I studied IT engineering at a college in India.

As for henna, I tried to improve my skills in applying henna and get as much experience as I could from the day I started learning. There are few standard patterns and techniques for henna. Once you get the hang of it, it becomes really easy.

Lately, many young people have become interested in henna. They consider henna as just another “fashion accessory”. Isn’t henna originally a tradition in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, which is applied to brides before a wedding ceremony? Can you explain the deeper meaning behind henna for our readers?

Henna art has a history of more than 5,000 years. It was first used in Egypt and later on used by Indians as a decorative and fashionable item. Henna is the name of the plant we prepare to get the paste. Henna is used to dye hair, nails and lips, as well as to treat teeth, allergies and diseases caused by viruses.

Henna is believed to protect people from bad things and gift happiness. For this reason, many nationalities apply henna during wedding ceremonies, celebrations and even during their daily lives. Countries like Arabia and India apply henna all over the hands and legs of a bride to wish the bride and groom happiness in their marriage and everlasting love. On top of henna being a tradition, many nationalities have developed their own unique henna styles and patterns that portray their own culture.

Worldwide, more and more people are becoming interested in getting henna, which is made of a medicinal plant that doesn’t have any bad effects. They’re able to be fashionable and self-satisfied for a week or two with henna that suits their taste, style and fashion. You can also show it off to others. It gives me pleasure too.

You said there are certain henna styles and patterns. Can you give a few examples and what they represent?

Hamsa HandIt all depends on your drawing technique, henna doesn’t have a certain guide or rule about how you should draw a pattern. One of the good sides of henna is that individuals can choose the design they want to have drawn on their body. However, there are patterns that portray or symbolize something precious in an ethnic group or in a place. For example, the paisley pattern is said to be good for women, whereas the mandala, a circular design, is said to symbolize well-being and the notion that life is never ending. The Hamsa Hand or the Hand of Fatima and the Horus Eye are known to be good luck symbols that ward off evil.

Like so, you can get designs and patterns that have their own unique qualities. Commonly, young people prefer getting designs and patterns that suit their hand shape or ones that are popular among their peers.

In Mongolia, which age group gets henna the most? Can both men and women get henna done on their body?

I mostly get female clients between the ages of 18 and 30. My youngest client was only a year old and the oldest was 60 years old. Henna paste is 100 percent natural and I make it myself, so it isn’t harmful to pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers or children. These qualities attract many customers and they take a liking to henna.

You just said that you make henna dye yourself? What kind of ingredients are put into a henna dye? There are two types of henna – black and brown colored henna. Are they mixed differently?

Henna paste
Henna paste

Henna paste is made from powders of the plant henna; made by drying, milling and sifting the leaves similar to how flour is made from wheat. Water, lemon juice, black tea, black coffee,sucrose, clove oil and other organic ingredients are added to henna powder. The black henna requires an additional mixture of Jagua juice. Since black and brown hennas are made differently,their lastingness on the skin and the output of the pastes are also different. Their lastingness varies depending on people’s skin type. The black henna is also known as a decorative henna because it fades faster than the brown henna.

Henna paste in a plastic cone made by G.Dochkana
Henna paste in a plastic cone made by G.Dochkana

Do you import henna from India? Do you have to have special importing license for it?

I bring henna powders from the USA, India and the UK. There isn’t any control or restriction for importing henna powder. However, importing henna dyes might require some kind of license.

What should people do to make their henna stay longer and the color darker? Is there a particular season most suitable for getting a henna?

There are only three rules to henna; heat, no exposure to water, and no peeling off henna paste.

It’s important to keep your henna as warm as possible for 24 to 48 hours after getting it done because henna becomes darker depending on the body temperature. Water slows the darkening process of henna and makes the color lighter. It’s essential to keep away from water for 24 hours after getting a henna and to keep the henna paste for as long as possible without peeling it off.

As henna is a temporary decorative item, it doesn’t matter which season you get it done.

Mongolian Henna Lovers (4)

How much does it cost to get henna applied? Do you draw on other body parts apart from hands?

The price varies depending on the design and size. On average, it costs 10,000 to 20,000 MNT to get a henna applied to a hand. It’s possible to get it done on other places. The decorative black henna stays for five to 10 days.

Mongolian Henna Lovers (7) You actively participate in various social activities and events all year-round to promote henna in Mongolia. What are your plans for the future? What do you hope to pass onto others through henna?

I’m currently preparing for a workshop, which I plan to organize in the near future. I will also attend several events and measures so that I can introduce henna to more young people. Next week, I will be cooperating with Maxmall in organizing an event.

Lately, increasing number of people are becoming interested in tattoos. Among them, there are people who don’t have the courage to get a permanent tattoo or can’t get tattoos due to the line of work they do. Henna is a good alternative option for them. They can satisfy their desire to get a tattoo with a henna. I want henna to become an everyday “accessory” for young people and become something that’s easy to get. Henna has become a strong trend worldwide. I noticed that the Mongolian people are keeping up with global trends and are trying out new things. Therefore, I try to offer my customers the latest trend and the hottest henna design as soon as they are out.