Artist Narissa Shawh’s henna designs speak volumes

Narissa Shawh has been creating henna designs for brides and women attending special occasions for the past three years. And though it has only been a short time, she’s renowned all around Guyana for her beautiful mehndi designs. But she also paints lovely designs on candles, glassware, tokens and such like.

A Narissa Shawh candle
A Narissa Shawh candle

Narissa’s work has taken her to places such as Berbice, Timehri and Bartica. She comes across as a simple and modest young woman but her designs speak volumes of her talent.

Speaking to The Scene at her Enmore home, the owner of Narissa’s Henna Designs revealed that while she was a business student at the ISA Islamic School, it never crossed her mind to work after graduation. She knew she wanted to be a wife and mother and has since fulfilled that goal.

But Narissa became interested in henna designs quite by chance. “One day, I saw henna on the hands of a good friend and I was never impressed by stencil design. It is not really a skill to do henna by stencil. So I asked her if it was stencil designed. She said no, it was free hand henna and she designed my hand. As she did it, I said to myself; I could do this,” Narissa said. “I started practicing on myself and friends and family. As I got better they told me that I should start charging for my work. I was skeptical at first.” She said she wondered if clients would like her designs and if they’d be satisfied.

“But after hearing comments such as, ‘Oh she does really nice designs,’ those words encouraged me to keep going,” the artist said. Without any formal art training, and using online research, Narissa creates Arabic, Gulf, Traditional Indian, Tribal and Somali designs. She’s done hundreds, so many she has lost count.

Her creativity likely came from her mother, Shireen Esau, a cake decorator, hair dresser, and seamstress. Shireen also makes floral arrangements, designs cushions and knits. “Growing up I’d be around her when she’s decorating her cakes and designing other stuff, Narissa said. “When I see something plain, I’m inclined to design it.”

Narissa Shawh’s mehndi designs
Narissa Shawh’s mehndi designs

Narissa got many of her clients through Facebook. It was also by this means that she received her biggest appointment ever. That appointment took her to Bartica where she sat tirelessly for two days with few breaks designing the hands and feet of over 110 adults and children. For her it was not only the job that made this one of her most memorable times, it was mostly the experience. The stories shared

The artist at work
The artist at work

and the bonds created.

“The best part about doing this job; I meet new people, bond with them and learn from their experiences,” she said. But as good as it is, too many persons at once could also challenge her design capacity.

Once she was invited to the do the hands of guests preparing for a wedding. The mehndi ceremony having been gone already meant that the bride already had her hands and feet designed. But as she looked on as Narissa designed the hands of her guests, she wished her hands were designed by Narissa too. By the end of the appointments with the guests, the bride decided that she wanted Narissa to design her hands and feet too. It took Narissa three days to rid the bride’s hands and feet of the henna designs before she was finally able to get down to her work. In the end the bride’s look of satisfaction and happiness spoke of a job well done.

Asked what was the best part of getting the job done, Narissa revealed that it was in the giving and in having persons praise her work.

Narissa Shawh’s designs on candles
Narissa Shawh’s designs on candles

She said the satisfied looks she get from customers once she’s done; looks of excitement and amusement, all the ooohhs and aaahhs make her become overwhelmed with happiness to see her customers delighted.

She said her biggest supporters are her husband and family, who are ever-ready to take care of her children when she’s on the job. “I hope my work; my tokens, can reach out to more people. I’d like to have a gift shop where persons can come to have their gifts personalized,” Narissa said.

Narissa enjoys being a “domestic engineer” as she puts it, since she hates the term housewife. For her persons belittle the role when it actually is one of the most important. She also enjoys drawing flowers and creating designs, swimming, visiting family and friends but most importantly spending quality time with her husband and two precious girls.

She often has to explain to customers her reasons for being a part of her faith and wearing a hijab, something she finds joy in doing. “It gives me a chance to teach people what Islam really is. Through the media, people have an idea of what they think Islam is. They think mainly of war. This allows me to share the truth about my faith. It helps to enlighten them. I don’t go trying to tell them but the fact is that they ask. I love answering their questions. Many of my clients are non-Muslims so I have a lot of questions to answer,” she said.

During our interview she took time out to pray with her children when the Azan/Adhan (a call to prayer) was called.

She admonishes persons dreaming a dream to wake up and make it a reality. “If it’s something good don’t stop doing it, even if persons discourage you. Keep at it even if you’re the only one standing. Aspire to inspire before you expire,” she said.

After the interview she volunteered to design this reporter’s hand. Her swiftness as she worked and as the design began to become apparent showed her professionality.

Persons wishing to have henna designs, gifts and tokens personalized for themselves or loved ones this season can reach out to Narissa Shawh via Facebook.

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