Treat Yourself to Henna Body Art
Soma Chatterji specializes in the ancient art of mendhi. She does showers, parties and other special occasions.
One of Soma Chatterji’s favorite things about her side gig as a mehndi artist is that it allows her to connect with people. “It’s an intimate thing, when you’re doing henna on someone,” she says of the ancient art form of applying the natural plant paste in beautiful patterns to temporarily stain the skin. “You’re sitting across from them and holding their hand, essentially. It’s a nice way to just open up conversation. You learn a lot from each other.”
Chatterji learned the art of mehndi in her late teens when her Indian-born parents moved the family from New York City to India. After returning to the States for college and spending several years in Pittsburgh (where she was a STEM programs manager for the Carnegie Science Center), she moved to Arlington with her young son during the pandemic. She’s worked hard to rebuild her Mehndi by Soma business here, while also working as a certified National Geographic instructor, offering virtual and in-person STEM enrichment education.
For mehndi, she charges by the hour for large events such as conferences, cultural festivals and weddings. Prices vary widely for smaller engagements, such as mehndi and merlot nights, henna “crowns” for cancer patients who have lost their hair, religious occasions like Diwali and Ramadan, birthday parties and even baby showers, where she decorates the mom-to-be’s belly. Her most popular adornment—a medium pattern that goes from fingertips to mid-forearm—is about $20.
“I prefer being accessible to a lot of people in a lot of backgrounds, because it’s more about sharing the culture for me,” says the artist, who also recently launched a paper quilling business—Socha Quilling—with 3-D paper ornaments, earrings and art pieces that echo the henna patterns she applies to skin. “I tend to put on my traditional garb so that it creates a safe space for people to ask questions or engage in conversation.”
Many clients ask about the significance of the patterns. While there are regionally specific motifs, Chatterji says, the design is less important than henna’s original purpose, which is to condition hair, skin and nails. “It’s like how a bride in Western cultures will have a spa day, where we have all the stuff done for us,” she explains. “The henna is kind of like that.”