Salam! I’m Fatima Oulad Thami
Entrepreneur behind Moroccan Henna Art by Hand of Fatima and this is my story.
By being the firstborn of a Dutch mother and a Moroccan father, I learned early on to adapt to different cultures. While society calls people like me half-blood, my mother has always insisted on changing the term to double blood. Because that fits the fact. I’m equally Moroccan as I’m Dutch. Both cultures are united in my heart.
At the tender age of fourteen I started experimenting with henna. The internet not being as developed as it is today, and the Neqachet in Morocco not too keen on sharing their Henna secrets, information was limited and I embarked on my henna adventures through trial and error, taking a wagon load of perseverance with me! Recipes that didn’t work out, henna paste that turned out too runny or too thick, syringes breaking and needles getting clogged, the color not turning out dark enough – in spite of all the setbacks, I never gave up.
Doggedly pursuing my own standards of excellence and never quitting have brought me where I am today.
One of the leading ladies of the Art in the Henna World! An Artist whose skill has been an inspiration for many. I’m the first Artist to have put Henna Art ‘on the map’ as a profession in the Netherlands.
Now, some 25+ years after taking the first tentative steps into the world of Henna … I am the most sought-after Henna Artist in the World when it comes to expertise in the field of Moroccan Henna Culture.
Little girl, proper lady
Henna Art, beauty, femininity and spirituality are intricately bound to one another. It’s been more than 35 years ago that I had my first henna-session in Morocco.
I was just a little girl, four years old, when the girl from next door came to us, to apply henna on both my mother and me. I will never forget the scent of the henna paste … and my patience was severely tried … the girl applying the henna worked on a fine fishbone motif with a little stick, decorating my hands and feet, working deep into the night.
I was so tired I fell asleep while she was busy! And I remember so well how beautiful I felt the next day – a little girl, admiring her little orange hands and nails, colored for the first time. I felt like a right proper lady! Just like my dearest aunties I was now wearing decorated hands and feet, proud of being a part of something I felt was special, something larger than life, something indefinable ......
The fascination for henna became stronger with the passing years. A holiday in Morocco was not complete without henna on my hands or feet, as a souvenir, to take back with me to the Netherlands.
After yet another visit to Morocco I decided not only to return with decorated hands, but with all the equipment necessary to make henna decorations. The goal? To teach myself how to be a Henna Artist. My fascination became my passion.
I started out practicing the traditional Moroccan motifs, also known as Fessi, but as I gained experience I explored Indian patterns and motifs from the Gulf States, known as Khaliji.
My passion and love for Henna Art fueled my determination to improve and develop my henna skills. Weddings, Womens' Gatherings, Moroccan themed cooperate parties, cultural projects, children’s parties and many more opportunities followed. Both national and international media got wind of my Henna Art. I was interviewed for well-known international magazines like Happinez and Ikea Live and I was invited multiple times to share my passion on national television shows.
My passion became a hobby that got out of control. Setting up my business, named Hand of Fatima was the inevitable next step. The indefinable feeling of something larger kept haunting me and I decided to find out what it meant. I felt that I was standing in front of a closed door, behind which a whole world was hidden.
In the meantime, my technique became increasingly refined and I kept on getting more and more assignments. I was driving through the whole country with my little henna suitcase. Everywhere I was meeting people who had never experienced a Henna Ritual from up close. My world opened for them. Through my experiences the closed door opened wider and wider and slowly but surely, the meaning of ‘something larger than life’ became more and more clear to me. My awareness grew. What at first had been a puzzling feeling, I could now define.
Larger than life!
“Something much larger” was a story, a history or a "Her Story" to be more precise. The story about the journey Henna Art has made, as much through time as from Africa to the Western World, gathered and shared. The story of a culture that up to date had been in the shadows, because women so often stay in the wings. This was the story of the women who had passed on their precious knowledge in secret, from mother to daughter, generation after generation; the knowledge entrusted to the community of women and kept safe for thousands of years.
The opened door made me become aware of my role in this story.
I am the link between the present and the past and even the future.
I am one of the caravan routes on which treasures were transported from East to West. Or, to be even more specific, in my case: from Africa to Europe.
My Henna Art is strongly rooted in the Moroccan tradition. I am endlessly inspired by the wealth in Amazigh Art and Crafts, created by the women, then and now. Though the meaning of many of the symbols has been lost, there is a repertoire of motifs and patterns that will always remain with us and keep on inspiring new generations, because the inherent themes are so timeless.
Why, you ask?
I am often asked: why did you choose to do henna? But that is not how I see it. I did not choose to do henna, henna chose me. I am merely the instrument, the window, the bridge, medium, whatever you wish to call it, through which the story of Henna Art may be told. Henna is magical. Once it has touched your heart, it digs itself into your soul and will not let you go. The passion became a way of life.
Working both in the Netherlands and Worldwide as a Henna Instructor has allowed me to influence the work of many Henna Artists considerably. Many women and sometimes men have become inspired by my style and it shows in their work. As pioneer and role-model I have paved the way for a new generation of henna artists in the Netherlands who started their own henna businesses. I have made hundreds of women worldwide fall in love with Moroccan Henna Art. I always aspire high standards, and when the standard is met, I push even higher. I’m taking Moroccan Henna Art to a new level. I enjoy great prestige worldwide for being an expert in Moroccan Henna Culture, think of techniques, styles, symbolism and traditions and at the same time I have developed my own signature henna style, sprung from my cultural roots. I'm a source of inspiration for many because my style is unique, unparalleled and influential.
Baraka means blessings
In Morocco it is said that henna contains Baraka. Baraka is best translated as spiritual blessings. Henna on skin, not only being blessed, but also passes blessings from hand to hand when the henna stain is touched by another person through holding hands. I, in turn, feel blessed to be able to pass on Baraka to others in this way.
I am so grateful for this task that has been given to me and I fulfill it with all the love and passion I have in me.
Some say that your work or what you do does not define you. ‘After all, you are not the work you do …’ The contrary is true for me … I am henna, I breathe it, I dream it. Life without henna is unthinkable. Being a Henna Artist is my lifestyle.
Fatima Oulad Thami
Henna Ritual for the very first time
Let me take you back in time….when I got my hands and feet adorned with henna for the very first time. My parents and me were visiting our family in Morocco and we stayed at my Grandmother’s. I was only four years old and halfway during our vacation our neighbouring girl came to the house to give my mum and me a very special treat….. I was so curious what it would be. I was already mouth watering by the thought of treat because usually those kind of surprises turned out to be delicious 7aloua (Moroccan sweets)….But when she went into the kitchen and the smell of whatever she was preparing reached my nose, I was desperately hoping that she wasn't cooking. Because this odor......I would never be able to eat anything that smells like this.
She called us to come into the kitchen and we sat down on the sofas. And then she brought the bowl to the table, it was still a bit warm and evaporating. When I saw a first glimpse of that muddy paste I desperately prayed that the treat wasn’t meant to be eaten, I paniced on the inside..….But then she took my hand and with a little stick that was dipped into the paste she started drawing a fishbone design on the palm of my right hand…..I sat still, quietly, totally fascinated of this whole new thing happening to me. Even up 'till now it is a vivid memory that I cherish in my heart. After my hands were done, she created the same designs on both my feet. During this whole time I couldn’t stop myself from thinking and wondering where that smell came from…. I, as a child of 4, figured out it must have had something to do with the bowl. My dear grandmother always cleaned little sardines and placed them in that same bowl…..So for me the henna had definitely something fishy about it….
When the hands and feet were finished, my grandmother wrapped them up with cotton cloths. And my father carried me to bed, 'cause i couldn’t walk anymore. My hand and feet were so heavy. I remember falling asleep, while the odor still surrounded me. This first time Henna Ritual, which in my memory lasted for hours, was a never-to-forget-experience that was completely absorbed by all my senses and during the night absorbed through my skin….even after all those years…it is still so fascinating………anyway…. Next day when the wraps were taken off and the dried henna paste washed off my hands and feet, the bright orange became visible and I was so happy. So happy to have it on my body, 'cause I had seen it on the hand and nails of my Grand Mum and my aunts.
I felt so proud to be a part of them, to be part of something bigger that I couldn’t understand at that time. It was like I pushed a big heavy door and it opened just a tiny bit…..That’s how my henna journey in my life began and since that day it has never left my life. Passion was awakened and I got affected by this Henna Fever…..and I never cured from it. The door to the world of Henna was unlocked and has been revealing so much secrets ever since, but still it isn’t wide open…..so many more things I want to see, to learn, to experience……to absorb….This journey is my way of life and I’m grateful for it.
Little sidenote: of course the smell was just the henna, as if my grand mum didn’t do the dishes, now I love the smell, on my hands, in my hair, everywhere.