Setting up a blog is one achievement in itself, but when you perfect it, that feeling comes full circle. Wanting to add a little va va voom to Habibi Lifestlye, I came across Farrah Azam, an artist who injects life into everyday objects and a variety of surfaces with gorgeously decadent henna designs. The result of working with her is the banner you see at the top of this website. Stylish, timeless and relevant – much like all of her other work. I nabbed the busy working Mum of one for a quick one to one.
1. There are no shortage of henna artists, but what made you think outside the box and apply this seemingly traditional practice to everyday items?
A lot of my inspiration comes from henna and I use actual henna in most of my work, which is why I decided to name my business ‘Bespoke Henna’. I work on a variety of surfaces from canvases to clothing and I use a variety of mediums to apply my designs so it goes far beyond the concept of a henna artist in my humble opinion.
Given the full scope of what I do, I don’t think the notion of a ‘henna’ artist fully covers that. I think a henna artist is somebody who is typically a body artist and I don’t actually paint on the body. I feel as though people would possibly put me in a ‘box’ and label me as a henna artist because henna on other surfaces other than the body seems to be an uncommon phenomenon up until recently.
For some odd reason, I have never enjoyed painting henna on the body. I don’t have a passion for it and I think it makes me feel slightly uncomfortable working on people which is the complete opposite feeling I get when painting on products. I actually find painting on products tremendously therapeutic. I’ve never liked it applied to my skin and I remember reluctantly having it applied on my wedding day.
I took the elements I liked about henna such as the actual substance and the patterns, and went off and applied it in such a way that it can be appreciated for years to come. I was actually practicing a design on a piece of paper and once it had dried, I realised how stunning it would look if I framed it. That’s what gave me the idea to paint on canvases and other products.
2. Your designs are inspired by a variety of cultures and eras such as Persian, Arabian and Mughal Indian. What is it about these particular backgrounds that you find so interesting?
Yes indeed. I find these backgrounds interesting because I have grown up being exposed to a lot of these cultures. Islamic art inspired me a great deal and coming from an Islamic background, I have grown up visiting beautiful mosques, visiting countries rich in culture and seeing all the stunning outfits and jewellery my Pakistani relatives wear. I have always been attracted to art which originates in these countries, and I love the traditional patterns which are used in henna such as the paisley and floral motifs and the way it all connects so elegantly.
3. What has been your most challenging commission and why?
That’s actually a really difficult question! I had to create about 13 canvases for a restaurant once in a fairly short space of time – I think that was a challenge! I also recently hand-painted some biscuits for a charity event too and I found that extremely challenging. I wasted quite a few biscuits and countless tubes of icing! It was very different working with icing because the consistency was completely different to henna and paint. I kept making it too thick or too watery and it was a very frustrating experience but it made me more determined to get it right. In the end I did and I was super proud.
4. What would you say has been your biggest achievement to date and why?
I have had a few big achievements this year. In January I was invited as a guest on a popular lifestyle show on the Islam Channel, which is the most watched ethnic channel in the U.K. I had various magazine features, one of which was in the leading Asian magazine in the U.K (Asiana magazine) and I was called on to the Islam Channel again around Eid time as a special guest to talk about my work on a women’s talk show. I was also contacted by CNN news this year to feature in their Eid gallery which turned out to be one of their most popular galleries so far. I also managed to set up a training academy in October, which was a big achievement for me. Teaching is something which was completely new to me and although I found it very challenging, it’s so rewarding and I have had the loveliest students. I have even had a student fly out from Denmark for my course and recently a student came from Scotland. In addition to this, I have also held international Skype lessons.
5. This year has been a truly successful one for you. What do you hope to achieve in 2014?
Good question. I have so much planned. I am starting an Islamic art course in January where I will be learning geometric art and Arabesque patterns. I’m really excited to apply these new skills that I hope to learn in to my current work. Once my course is complete, I am off to Marrakech to get lots of inspiration! I also plan to do an Islamic calligraphy course sometime next year if I can fit it in. I want to work more on my training academy as I haven’t so far advertised it much or even put a section up about it on my website. I have just been super busy. But with my son starting reception, I’m hoping I’ll have some more free time to build on what I’ve started.
Find more of Farrah’s work on www.bespokehenna.com.