Sometimes the path we take in life isn’t the one we intended. Manasi Joshi, born and raised in India, was set to become an architect after finishing her bachelor’s degree and working in the field for a couple of years, when her family moved to the United States in 2003.
With the differences in technology and home building between India and the U.S., an architectural career was out of reach for Manasi without a master’s degree. Facing the hurdles of several moves within the U.S.—without living near a university with a master’s program in architecture—along with the wait for the proper work documentation and trouble acquiring the correct documents from her previous university, her goals remained on hold.
Manasi held onto her dream until about two years ago, when she considered attempting to join a master’s program here, in Atlanta, but a conversation with a friend opened her eyes. “I just couldn’t let go of the hard work of five years that I put in to get my bachelor’s degree,” Manasi says. “And well, there’s something about introducing myself as an architect…it has much more weight than, ‘I’m an artist.’ There’s a difference in the way people treat you. I had my mind set up on being an architect and then I had to change that to try to find my way.”
Growing up in India, she remembers her mom drawing henna designs on her with a matchstick. It was always a part of her life, but Manasi was never interested in creating it herself.
The henna plant (Lawsonia inermis) grows in very hot conditions in Asia and Africa, and its leaves, full of mahogany-pigmented lawsone, are dried and ground into a fine powder and mixed with water, sugar and essential oils to create henna paste. Manasi rolls her own cones from cellophane for precise application of her organic henna.
(There are commercial and artificial henna cones that come prefilled, but Manasi highly suggests avoiding these as they are typically full of preservative dyes and harmful chemicals.)
Henna has origins as far back as ancient Egyptian civilizations 9,000 years ago and has been used for decorative and medicinal purposes ever since. In addition to the skin, henna can be applied to and will stain almost any porous surface such as wood, canvas and leather. And aside from the beautiful artwork that henna is popular for in ceremonies, henna has a cooling effect when pasted on the skin and acts as a natural sunblock.
On a trip back to India when her daughter was younger, Manasi took a class to learn henna but grew bored as the instructor had her drawing on paper for weeks without learning any henna application. She bought her own henna and began to learn to make the paste by studying henna pages and (specifically hennapage.com, where Catheine Cartwright-Jones published her PhD research) forums online, and practiced on paper. “I was hooked with all those patterns and repetitive action,” she says. “It was relaxing.”
In 2011, Manasi and her mom met two face painters, Aline and Daniel, at an outdoor festival she attended in Tennessee and inquired about how to set up at a festival as such, and she discovered that they were organizing another festival in the near future. So she partnered with Aline to begin putting herself out there as an artist. Henna was still a part-time job for her since she was working full-time elsewhere, but she worked at many festivals over the years as henna became more popular, and four years ago, made being an artist her full-time job.
“When I first started doing henna, there were not a lot of people doing it,” she says. “There were a lot of people doing the face painting, but I had not been doing henna a lot, so when we moved here to Peachtree City, I realized I had a much better market for it.”
Most of Manasi’s work comes to her through social media recognition and festivals. At one event, she had a wooden piece with her that she had decorated with henna. A neighboring vendor, who was a woodworker, mentioned that it looked like wood burning. She became curious about the craft, and had a wood burning tool at home, so she gave it a shot. The results were better than she expected and she enjoyed the detailed work, so she added wood burning to her repertoire as well.
Manasi has made a name for herself with her natural artistic ability and great attention to detail, which lends itself well to her profession as a henna artist and wood burner. She has built a solid client base and earns much of her work through word of mouth.
“What I’m the most happy doing is my art,” says Manasi. “I knew if I worked as hard as I do at my other jobs that I didn’t like…if I apply that same amount of hard work to my business…then why not do that and be my own boss?”
Manasi is available for private clients and corporate events. Also, look for her at Peachtree City’s annual Shakerag Festival, or at the Night Market and International Dragon Boat Festival events. See more of Manasi’s work on her website: hennafyme.com; or search @Manasisart on Facebook and Instagram.