Henna: Montreal Artist Explains This Art and Why You Should Try It

What is a henna session, and why should you have one?

I spoke with Sinthusha Kandiah of Divinart Foundation, to help explain this beautiful tradition. My hope is that you learn something new and consider getting a session for yourself as a peaceful gift to yourself and perhaps celebrate a session with your friends. I have event had Sinthusha come for my twins’ birthday party and she did henna for every child. I can tell you, after an active pool party, it was a wonderful and calm ending to a party. All the kids LOVED their original pieces of art!

The best down-time activity at a birthday party ever.

I met Sinthusha a few years back, virtually, after I heard her speak at WE Day in Montreal. Since then, we have connected for many reasons, chatted online and in person. She has been coming to Shopping From The Heart for the last few years to create beautiful masterpieces on women’s hands during the event.

Her henna artwork is amazing. I always ask her the same question when I see her work her magic, “How did you know this was your passion?” She has told me she was always very creative and artistic since she was young, so this came naturally. And I laugh and laugh…because you can be creative and artistic and NOT be able to do this. The symmetry and steady hand she has, to make pretty much anything, is incredible.

The beautiful artwork she did on my hand (above) for my birthday took her all of 15 minutes. Can you believe that?! As we talked, she said she has done full wedding parties and her all-time maximum amount of henna pieces created in one weekend was…200. That’s right.

Sinthusha strives to make a difference through her passion for art and aspires to inspire the future generation to bring something positive into this world.

And if you are thinking, wow, she has made quite the business for herself, she is probably doing so well for herself and her business financially. For that, you would only be half right. She is doing amazing! But it’s not for herself. You see, Sinthusha is doing this all without making any money for herself.

Sinthusha founded Divinart Foundation, a registered non-profit organization that is dedicated to using the proceeds raised from henna to help empower vulnerable women and individuals. The foundation has currently made impact in Montreal, Sri Lanka and now in India and has empowered almost over 300 individuals solely through her art.

Some of the work she has done in Montreal is helping raise awareness around the realities of Native women and helping Syrian refugee kids. In Sri Lanka, she has empowered and uplifted visually impaired individuals impacted by the civil war by donating talking calculators and google home minis for their educational endeavors. As well, this year she has started a new women’s empowerment project in India, in collaboration with a local organization in India, to select and train vulnerable women living in the slums to create their own business, so they can become financially independent.

Sinthusha, when did you decide you wanted to start this project?

When I was 17 years old, I wrote this project idea on a piece of paper, and then two years later, I started it.

Did you get support from your family/friends?

When I first started I didn’t have the support of my parents as it wasn’t in line with the vision they had for me. As immigrants to this country, they only wanted the best for their children and to not go through the same struggles they did. They wanted me to focus on my education as I was in Cegep during this time and didn’t want me to lose focus on school if I started this project.

I had the courage to start this project, thanks to my friends for believing in me and encouraging me to just do it.

How are you managing this while in school/now work?

As I started this project during Cegep, then continued on during university years, it was tough, but it was also something that fuelled me while going through institutional systems I didn’t like so much. I’ve always grown up doing so much in life that an addition to managing a passion project while in school was something I looked forward to.

Now that I’m not in school and out in the “real world”, I definitely see myself devoting 110% of my time to my organization which is hard because I’m conflicted with what I actually want to do in life, and what would bring me financial stability. I think it’ll be a long process to figure out, but at the moment, just going with the flow.

Where have you travelled to see your results in action?

Thus far, I’ve only travelled to northern parts of Sri Lanka to see the impact in person. It was tough during school, but I decided to go to Sri Lanka during my second year at McGill. When you’ve been working and pouring your heart and soul into this project, nothing is more rewarding than seeing the impact you’re creating with your passion. When I started this project, I really didn’t know where it would go but when I was 17, the motto of the project I gave was “through art, we can make a difference.” And never to this day would I have thought that I’m living and fulfilling this dream I had for myself at a young age.

How do you feel when you create henna for brides, friends, etc.?

It’s a feeling that is indescribable and so fulfilling! To be able to impart joy through my passion for art to strangers (who become friends/acquaintances), is a privilege that I am so grateful for. It is a beautiful art that will always be a part of me. It is an art that has grounded me, molded me, and an art that has allowed me to flourish into the person I am today.

Even though the process is fast, having henna on for two weeks is a visual reminder of the event – in this case, my birthday with friends.

What are your plans for the future?

Make Divinart an Empire!! I’m kidding haha but I definitely want to invest more time in it, so it grows into what I envision it to be. It will always be my little baby which is why it takes so much of my time and energy but also something that brings me joy and happiness.
One way I want it to grow is to continue offering my clients different products to meet their needs but also allow my creativity to show through this foundation.

How can people support your cause? 

One of the best ways to support my cause is to host henna parties, or have me do henna at your events, but if henna is not your thing, then I definitely accept donations. Any form of support is always and immensely appreciated and I’m grateful for every single soul who has supported me small or big in whatever form they did. Divinart Foundation would not have come this far if it wasn’t for all my amazing supporters.

What is the origin of henna art?

Tracing back the origins of henna is still unclear, but it has been found that henna art dates back to Ancient Egypt. Through archeology, it was found that Cleopatra used henna to adorn her body and it was also found that Egyptians covered the fingertips of mummies before they buried them. Traditionally, henna was used for brides in various cultures. Every culture and region of this world uses henna in its own unique way. For example, in Hindu weddings, the bride is adorned with henna to symbolize beauty, joy, and offering.

Do you enjoy that it is becoming more mainstream?

I don’t think I would say I “enjoy” it becoming more westernized or “mainstream” but more so that I respect this art being appreciated by different cultures which has allowed one of the most ancient arts in history to survive till this day. Because this art is being appreciated in the western world, the beauty has evolved and changed so much throughout the years which is quite amazing.

What are your favourite pieces to create?

I would definitely say I love creating personalized bridal henna designs for my brides that capture their love story. It allows my creative juices to flow and create unique designs that are personal to each bride. It gives another form of meaning to the art while also allowing the groom to be part of the henna since traditionally grooms don’t get henna done. This is also an opportunity for me to learn about the hardships, obstacles, and moments, my brides share with me which has also allowed me to grow as an individual. I have learned what love is in all its’ form through my brides. My foundation has allowed me to meet such inspiring people who have made me wiser as an individual just by listening from every walk of life.

One more thing – we’ve talked about henna sold in stores that are not natural – can cause irritations, especially for kids, how is your henna different?

My henna is made of henna powder that comes from India which is mixed with sugar, water, and essential oil. It is 100% organic and needs to be stored in the freezer as it’s perishable. The ones bought in stores are filled with chemicals, preservatives, and PPD and almost always never stored in the freezer. It’s not natural and can cause allergic reactions to those who have sensitive skin.

Thank you, Sinthusha!

So? Will you give henna art a try if you haven’t already? I hope so!!

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