For centuries, the veiled women of Africa, the Middle East and Asia have celebrated weddings and holidays by having hands and feet dyed with henna. The artists who create the elaborate patterns of flowers and arabesques are women, and the handicraft has been a rare way for them to earn money in cultures where work outside the home is discouraged, if not forbidden.
About six years ago, a group of Zanzibari women who were masters of Swahili body painting learned to transfer their traditional designs to paint on canvas and paper. The work combines the flowing floral patterning, typically in dark executed in brown or black dye, with vibrant colors and sometimes collage or contemporary imagery. It gives the women new forms of expression and, equally important, the opportunity to earn income within the context of family life.
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