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MENDHI BY ANDREW VERSTER (article first published : 2003-05-19)

One of South Africa’s top artists, Durban-based Andrew Verster¹s latest exhibition opens at the Tamasa Gallery on June 3.

Describing his newest work, Andrew Verster writes: “Mendhi is the decoration of the hands and feet with Henna. The patterns are age old. The Mendhi ceremony is part of the Indian marriage ritual. The bride sits in front of guests on a small stage, both she, and the stage, elaborately decorated, whilst the patterns are applied. This is done with a cone of Henna paste, squeezed through a tiny hole, to produce a fine line. As this is intricate work, it seldom takes less than two hours, often more.

“Perfecting the skill takes years of practice. These works which last on the skin for only a few days before fading, are in their own right an art form.

“Although the patterns are traditional, each bride has a say in the particular designs she will have, how elaborate, or how simple. The pattern may only cover part of the hands or feet, the wrists, ankles, or extend higher like long stockings or gloves to elbow or knee.

“I have more than an outsider¹s interest in all of this as I am involved with two friends, Marklyn Govender and Clint Singh, whose work is to dress brides and to organise all aspects of the various marriage ceremonies during the week of celebrations. Over the years I have collected hundreds of photographs of the different brides we have worked with week in and week out.

“My drawings, which are in black and white ink on paper, takes these as a starting point, and allude to other forms of body decoration, such as scarification and tattooing. In a world which has become increasingly standardised, I sense that people are looking more and more ways of asserting their own identity. Decorating their own bodies with unique symbols, as unique as their fingerprints, is a gentle protest against uniformity.”

Mendhi: Ink Drawings runs at Tamasa Gallery until June 21. More details from Tamasa Gallery in Overport Drive on 031 207 1223 or fax 031 207 1224.




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