Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Henna-Inspired Art in Africa

I recently met Kristin Glaze at the the Arts in Mission 2011: Training for Cross-Cultural Ministry conference in the U.K.  She is currently about half way through a two-year assignment in southern Africa, and has a BA and a MFA in art.  Kristin's team has two branches: one is media-focused, reporting on missions stories for Christians mostly in the U.S.; the other does consulting regarding the use of oral communications and creative arts for field use.

Her first year has been a struggle at times to find her place as an artist on the team, because they didn't have a clearly-defined role for her when she came.  Most of her assignments were for the media team, to illustrate stories they were reporting on when photos could not be used due to conditions on the ground. 

Cowboy of Sudan by Kristin Glaze

But more recently, her new director has encouraged her to begin using her art to support her fellow missionaries who are doing pre-church planting work rather than media work. Recently she has been able to do just that with evangelistic henna and henna-inspired paintings.

The team members had recently started working among a target community, and were having a hard time initiating relationships.  So they decided to try using henna parties as a way to meet and get to know the women of the community.  These parties have allowed them to meet new people and begin forming relationships, becoming more involved in the women's lives. 

These relationships have also opened up doors for them to speak about Jesus, and not only to other women: one team worker who volunteers at a local school was asked by young students about the henna designs on her hands, and later the students began sharing the stories with their friends. 

Passover by Kristin Glaze
Kristin learned to draw henna designs that were originally created for evangelistic henna parties in South Asia by other Christian workers, like Mina Rowland.  She also created a few new designs for missing stories.  Kristin's team has done one party in their area so far.  A short term team joined them for the party to explain the designs to the women who attended.

Since the party, she and team members have followed up with some of the women, asking henna-related questions and forming friendships.  In addition, the team members have begun asking Kristin to create paintings as gifts for some of the party attendees, as well as for a male store owner who helped them mix the henna paste. 

She has done four paintings so far, but continues to create them as outreach gifts for weddings, baby showers, etc.  She may eventually make prints of the paintings to sell as a fundraising tool.

Manyika of Mozambique by Kristin Glaze
In her henna paintings, Kristin chose different decorative elements for men and women. She also wanted to incorporate color into the designs, like those she sees in local shops and on clothing.  Finally, she wanted to paint something that the recipients would want to display in their homes.

Her process for creating the paintings began with choosing and studying a bible passage.  She then picks out motifs from the story that would translate well as henna art, sketching them on paper and playing with arrangement of the main symbols, later adding details.  The story influences the overall look of the design in the paintings.

Let's take a look at some of her paintings, all of which are created using acrylic paint and Sharpie pens:

The Woman at the Well by Kristin Glaze
The first is "The Woman at the Well" (John 4).  The heart with the cross in it at the bottom right corner represents Jesus, and the flower above the heart represents the woman.  In the middle, there is a circle with other circles surrounding it, which represents the well.  There are two jars on either side of the well.  The jar turned upside down represents the jar the woman was using to draw water.  The six hearts inside that jar represent the six men in her life: her five husbands, plus the man she was currently with who was not her husband.  The white jar represents Jesus and the life-giving water he offers. 

The sun above the white jar represents the Light of Christ that exposes our sin.  The rays arch over to the right and hit the woman's jar to show that Jesus not only exposed her sin, but also freed her after it was brought to the light.

The blue swirls throughout represent water that Jesus gives, which is a spring welling up to eternal life. Lastly, the little stars at the top represent all the people who believed in Jesus because of the woman's testimony.

Elijah and the Still, Small Voice by Kristin Glaze

The next painting is "Elijah and the Still, Small Voice," inspired by 1 Kings 19.  The golden star in the top left represents Elijah.  The green leaves above it symbolize the wilderness where he was when t his story took place.  Kristin incorporated the symbol of the leaves from a chart of evangelistic henna symbols that were developed previously; later, she revamped some of those).  The swirls across the top of the image represent the wind; The orange forms on bottom left are the flames of fire; the cracks and jumbled box shapes in the center and right side represent the earthquake.  In this image, God and his voice is represented abstractly by the checkered wave form in the lower right corner (the checkered pattern is also from the chart).  The rest of the design is decorative.

Abraham and Isaac by Kristin Glaze
The next image is called "Abraham and Isaac," from Genesis 22,  when God tested Abraham's faith by asking him to sacrifice his son.  The image begins in the lower left corner with the two stars, representing Abraham and Isaac.  To their right are small hills with a red path leading up to a star; this is the path they traveled to the place where Abraham built the sacrificial altar.  Scripture says they carried fire, wood and a knife with them up to the place of sacrifice, so Kristin depicts the flams of the fire to the right of the star, and the wood and knife are underneath

To the right of the fire is the powerful angel who appeared at the last second to stop Abraham from killing his son.  To the lower right of the angel are the horns of the ram caught in a thicket, through which God provided a substitute.  Afterward, God renewed His covenant with Abraham.

Mary and Martha by Kristin Glaze

And lastly is "Mary and Martha."  And since I didn't get a detailed explanation of this one, I'll let you have fun figuring it out on your own!


  1. This is absolutely great! I am a henna artist myself and love making designs that point to Christ. What an amazing story!! Wish I could be in contact with this wonderful lady who creates these lovely symbolic paintings!

  2. @Libbyzee- I just added a link to Kristin's name at the beginning of this post, which takes you to her Etsy shop where you can buy her artwork and contact her.