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Henna with a Heart promotes artistry, community service with traditional art form

Henna with a Heart was founded this year and combines creativity with culture and community service. President and first-year computational and systems biology student Anoushka Bhat said the idea behind the club was inspired by her childhood memories of learning henna from her mom. (Megan Cai/Daily Bruin)

By Casey Lee

Feb. 23, 2022 4:22 p.m.

Henna with a Heart is drawing on creativity to practice mehndi.

With a childhood passion for henna, first-year computational and systems biology student Anoushka Bhat said she was inspired to found the club this year. Henna is a natural dye made from a henna tree and is used to temporarily stain the skin in the South Asian and Middle Eastern tradition of body art, which Bhat said is also known as mehndi. Drawing from her heritage, she said her mission for Henna with a Heart revolves around three pillars: learning about henna, educating others about Indian culture and community service.

“The way my mom introduced me to henna, I get to be part of that process for other people and that’s very rewarding,” Bhat said.

Prior to attending UCLA, Bhat said she started a henna club at her high school, which was when she came up with the name Henna with a Heart. She said the sentiment was inspired by her childhood memories of doing henna, and to this day, practicing henna makes her feel relaxed and nostalgic. She shares this feeling with first-year bioengineering student and current vice president Anusha Kargool, who said they bonded over their mutual experience of feeling disconnected from their culture but got in touch with it through henna.

(Megan Cai/Daily Bruin)
Anusha Kargool, a first-year bioengineering student and vice president of the club, said she and Bhat brought Henna with a Heart to UCLA together after bonding over a shared experience of reconnecting back to their culture through henna. (Megan Cai/Daily Bruin)

[Related: Artistic Activism Coalition at UCLA advocates for social justice through art]

Bhat said her high school club allowed her to refine her teaching approach and adjust the speed and organization of the workshops based on prior feedback. Through implementing lessons that were successful in high school, such as the use of template tracing with henna cones, she said members are easily able to solidify their technical skills. Bhat said she also fostered her creativity in high school when she did a unicorn henna design at a school fair and realized the art form can be nontraditional, which she hopes to carry forward to Henna with a Heart at UCLA.

Starting with the foundational skills of henna, Bhat said she first taught members how to fold a cone, as well as how to draw basic lines and shapes. She said at the club’s most recent meeting, they covered advanced shapes such as a circle or paisley. In order to bridge the gap between the members’ varying levels of expertise, Bhat said she plans on hosting a separate basic workshop series and an advanced series. Kargool said the club is inclusive of all experience levels, and their priority is to build a community of henna artists.

“That shows what our club’s purpose is,” Kargool said. “I’m not even that well-versed in henna, but I’m still part of this club and I enjoy this club. … We’re all in this club together and we’re all learning together.”

In terms of their presence on campus, first-year chemical engineering student Anya Khandpur, who serves as the finance director, said she discovered Henna with a Heart through the Indian Student Union’s Garba night. Khandpur said the two organizations collaborated to do henna at a booth on Bruin Walk for people attending Garba, which was where she met Bhat and decided to join the club. Khandpur said her favorite part of the club is the tightknit community, which convinced her to stay and become a member.

(Megan Cai/Daily Bruin)
In addition to practicing art, Bhat said the club values engaging in community service and donating event proceeds to charity. (Megan Cai/Daily Bruin)

[Related: Student-developed social media platform Cobble supports creative collaboration]

In addition to education, Bhat said another important part of Henna with a Heart is community service. The club is committed to donating all proceeds from events and henna booths to hospitals and nonprofit organizations, she said, and plans on raising money for groups such as UCLA Health and Los Angeles-based nonprofits. Khandpur said she admires this aspect of volunteering that gives Henna with a Heart a meaning beyond the art and the joy of doing henna.

“I get to enjoy something I’ve always loved, but we also give back to the community at the same time,” Khandpur said.

Looking forward, Bhat said she hopes to see the club’s art director host workshops in order to use talent from the executive board, and Kargool said she plans on collaborating with the Indian Student Union on more events. In terms of expanding to the community, Kargool said she also wants to work with children at a local hospital for a potential volunteer event. Bhat said she aspires to bring Henna with a Heart to the greater Westwood area by setting up booths during the Westwood Village Farmers’ Market or educating children at local schools to share the art of henna.

“Whether (members) want to volunteer, learn henna or make friends, I want (Henna with a Heart) to be a space where everybody can do what they feel passionate about,” Bhat said.

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