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Course COMM2377

MODERN ASIA
HENNA TATTOO AND THE YOUTH
Word count: 3729
Web project: http://youth-henna.weebly.com
Project By:
Bui Huynh Thanh Vy- s3533338
Charlotte Horen s3575796
Elise Queroy - s3575791
To Ngoc Thuy Nhi- s3533570
Tran Thien Anh- s3518544

RMIT electronic submission of work for assessment


I declare that in submitting all work for this assessment I have read,
understood and agree to the content and expectations of the Assessment
declaration.

I. Introduction
Mentioning about body modification area, people tend to think of Western
tattoo. However, there is one type of body art coming from an Asian country,
which is mehndi, commonly called henna, an Indian non-permanent tattoo.
Henna is a very old art in India and North Africa, with a lot of religious,
behaviors significations. Surprisingly, henna in Europe or Vietnam is an art to
replace tattoo. This temporary tattoo has travelled all around the world as a
beauty art and this art has also evolved from traditional forms like flowers to
forms more westerns like animals especially for young people. Recently,
more and more teenagers and young people want to be outstanding in the
society with this particular body modification.
II. Background Research
1. The History
The history and creation of Henna (Mehndi) are difficult to trace by virtue of
centuries of migration and cultural interaction, thereupon, it is hard to
examine where exactly discrete traditions commenced (Henna art
connection 2016). The people of Ancient Egypt and India used henna
(mehndi) as a temporary tattoo for wedding celebrations, religious
ceremonies and makeup for the women (Karl Grning 2005). Regardless of
that, at the current, henna (mehndi) is prominent to come from India where
it is still used. Now, those are merely decorative, although it used to be
believed that they were magic and brought good luck (Dodson 2007).
2. Movement to the West and Vietnam
In fact, henna was not only used in India but also in some Muslim countries,
especially in North Africa (Cartwright-Jones 2001). In addition, Henna arrived
later in Europe and henna was introduced at the end of the 19th century on
account of Turkey colony (Cartwright-Jones 2001). Because of the trade
relations between European countries and Turkey colonial expansion, henna

art, tea, carpets, and other luxurious things were exported to Europe
(Cartwright-Jones 2006). At that period, henna became the new trend for
women, as the European women wanted to make themselves as desirable
and exotic, by using henna on their skin as makeup to imitate Oriental
women. European women started to dye their hair with henna by the second
half of the 19th century, during that time, it was the cheapest way, and they
also experimented with dying their nails (Cartwright-Jones 2006).
Globalization has probably brought more people from different backgrounds
and ethnicities together than ever before (Barker 2002). It is essential to
conceptualize globalization correlating to an allied idea such as
westernization. To clarify, globalization is viewed as Westernization in general
and Americanization in particular in which the world is becoming more
homogeneous and the non-Western areas look increasingly like the Western
world (Turner & Khondker 2010). Even so, henna of India has made a miracle
which goes against that ideology. In the late 1990s, the Indian art culture
popped up on the style chart of trend spotters in the category of music and
fashion in the U.S. and Europe (Maira 2000). From that, there was a surge of
henna in the west following the 1998 release of Madonnas music video,
named Frozen and it attracted millions of viewers who had never seen it
before. The video suddenly became the hottest incentive purchase
everywhere. Throughout the last decades, henna has emerged from South
Asia into the popular culture of the the EU, Canada,US &UK, (CartwrightJones 2006).
On the other hand, India has expanded henna tattoo to different Asian
nations due to the globalization. This is how henna arrived in Vietnam. The
video by SCTV (2014) explores that Henna art tattoo has become a trend
recently in here since 2010. It has produced a new orientalization of India
that recreates the countercultural appropriations of Indian styles, through the
consumption of imported goods that signify an exotic "cool" (Maira 2000).
According to Bui in 2013, Henna became one of the hottest trends for young
people in urban as in HCMC, Hanoi and other major cities. In Vietnam, Henna

first appeared in HCM city and then in Hanoi. Vietnamese youth nowadays
can get a henna tattoo in both handmade and fashion fairs where there are
always booths for henna artists on every week or some coffee shops that
offer Henna painting (Bui 2013). There are always crowded of customers,
young people came and left with henna tattoos on their bodies

III.Theoretical framework
1. Cultural globalization
As global culture is considered an untotalized totality that comprises
patterns of dismissive and conclusive symbolic interchange (Ritzer 2008), it
tends to follow up one of three theses, namely homogenization,
heterogeneity and hybridization. Some traditions were preserved pure,
meanwhile, some customs appear to be faded due to globalization impact,
however , there is some turn into a hybrid of both. A typical example of a
culture that has altered as an outcome of westernization would be the art of
mehndi, commonly known as henna. The symbolism and patterns of henna
have been changed since the arrival of globalization, in fact, the current
pattern is more westernized on account of its modernity and
distinguishability, highlighting the impact of a global culture like henna
impose.
Moreover, a global practice is attributed to inevitable cultural exchanges
(Waters 1995), consequently, the evolution of a global culture can unite and
relativize individuals, nations and international structures (Robertson 1992).
Indeed, henna did bring everyone together by the common sensation of this
culture practice, from national circumstances to the international extent, in
particular, western and other Asian countries. This could be put into words
that when a global culture is deterritorialized, its growth will be promoted out
of the alliance of mass-mediated cultural processes and migratory patrons
(Appadurai 1996).

2. Youth Identity
According to Onur (n.d.), Youth identities of the modern community are
distinct from the ones in traditional community. These identities appear to be
suitable for change, hence, youth identities have evolved into a multidirectional, charismatic and more personal evolution, comparing to the
traditional society. The generated flexible dispositions offer the youth a way
on which they become a subject tailoring the advanced formation of social
changing procedure. As popular culture governs the taste and styles of the
young generation, it provides them with materials associating to identity
surrounding the ambiguity of globalization. So to speak, the construction of
youth identity adheres to created and conventional youth materials. Similar
to the music videos with the narrative attributes of pastiches, the identities
of the young generation are delicate, disintegrated and carry union
deficiency. By this way, the youth associate themselves with the society as
well as reunited to the community through meetings in the collective extent
in which they can convey themselves enclosed by the cultural extension of
world capitalism. Since young generation creates their own social identities
over an abstract social commotion, they embark on a quest for identity
whereabouts their own societal exposures turn into determiners. For this
case, research showed that the current youth has a desire of getting a henna
for which they will be able to express their identities, hence, their bodies get
fetish and commodification.
3. Cultural Identity
Cultural identity of Stuart Hall in 1996 refers to an incident of becoming and
being, reflecting the common historical exposures and shared cultural
ciphers which produce the firm, consistent and eternal settings of reference
and interpretation, underneath the changing divisions and variations of the
actual history. And it inheres to both the fast and future because it

transcends through the place, time, history and culture. While Lustig (2013)
describes cultural identity as a person's the sense of belonging to a
particular culture or group, Boski, Strus and Tiaga (2004) defines cultural
identity as the content of values leading proposition to meaningful signs, and
to a way of life that individuals share with others, despite unnecessary
belongingness to identifiable groups. Its process necessitates learning about
and accepting language, ancestry, traditions, heritage, aesthetics, thinking
patterns, religion, and social structures of a culture. Generally, individuals
internalize the norms, values, beliefs and social practices of their culture and
connect themselves with that culture. Culture identities are central to a
persons sense of self-concept (Lustig 2013) due to their dominance,
dynamic and multifaceted elements of ones self-concept. Lustig (2013) also
asserts cultural identities exist within a changing social circumstance, hence,
modifications of a persons identity is a result of ones continuous life
experiences.

IV. Motivations for Henna adoption of young generation


1. Youth resistance vs Stereotype toward Henna tattoos
a. Youth resistance
On current days, the young generation is searching for an identity which
means offering them a sense of identity, of their self-identification and
relation to their social group (Du Gay, Hall, Janes, Madsen, Macay and Negus,
2013). Teenagers want to liberate from their parents and affirm their
maturity (Kang & Jones 2007). One way to demonstrate that they are ready
to make their own choice is the body modification (Myers 1992). Body
modification has been defined as cosmetics, coiffure ornamentation,
adornment, tattooing, scarification, piercing, cutting, branding, and other
procedures are done mostly for aesthetic reasons (Myers 1992, p.267).
Among these practices, tattooing and body piercing have received an

increasing amount of attention. In this current society, a teenager wants to


be acknowledged as an adult not a child anymore, and one typical way to
prove that is to get a tattoo (Kang & Jones 2007). Recently, henna is now
being used as a trendy alternative to traditional body tattoos (Gubta 2013).
In reality, a number of people acquire this contemporary art to deliberate
their aspects that are resistant to parents (Kjeldgaard & Bengtsson 2005).
For Trang Pham, a Foreign Trade University student, explaining that having
Henna indicates her effort in going against her parent: I want everyone to
know that Im sick of being told what to do and how to look. In some cases,
the youth resent their parents by getting the tattoo, as they want to prove
that they are mature enough to decide what they want and their own future
(Little 2015).

b. Stereotype
In a 20th century Western context, tattoos have been affiliated with lower
social status and deviancy (Roberts 2012), including criminals, gang
members and prostitutes (Ferreira 2014; Wohlrab, Stahl, Rammsayer &
Kappeler 2007). In Asia, especially Vietnam faces the same problem. Most of
that history they were stigmatized, associated with prisoners, vagrants and
the criminal underworld (Tsang 1994).
However, in western countries, it is common that the youth is free to do
whatever they want than in Asia because it is part of the culture. Indeed, the
western values are not as strict as the Asian one, and the paternalistic vision
of life is no longer exist in the West at the current. Tess, a RMIT exchange
student from Australia, claimed:I did one henna when I was 10 in Singapore
with my parents. In Australia, it is more the teenager who do henna. Its the
trend for teenager because they are underage to have the real tattoos. Or
as Nancy, a Danish student at RMIT, exposed, Henna is famous in Denmark
for the teenagers who dont have 18 years to do a real tattoo.

In Vietnam, tattoo is still not accepted in the society in general and by the
parents in particular. Vietnam is an Asian country thus it responds to Asian
values, and one major Asian value is that young people must follow their
parents (Chow 2004). The Vietnamese youth is taught to do things that are
approved by their parents, so that they will not stigmatize their family.
Thereby, Vietnamese youth could not obtain a tattoo due to a bad mindset of
the old generation towards tattoos.
Yen Pham, a two-year university student, states that, My parents reactions
toward henna at first are really negative, they thought it was a real tattoo
and made some judgments about it illustrated through their facial
expressions and tone of voice.
And Nga Tran, shares the same perception like Yen, she would have love to
make a permanent tattoo, however, tattoos does not fit Asian values, she
prefers to do non-permanent tattoo like henna. She implies, I still prefer
having a real tattoo, however, due to my parents disapproval, henna
becomes my second choice.
Those sharings above have reflected henna is a way to resist to the rules.
Owing to the fact that owing a permanent tattoo is more difficult in Vietnam
than in Western countries, accordingly, henna paintings are assumed as they
are more acceptable for their parents.
2. Identity marker, self- identification of the youth
The created supple mentalities give the young generation a way on which
they are reformed as a subject that conforming the developed genesis of
social changing progress (Onur n.d.). Considering the youth builds their own
social identities above an abstract social group, they search for identity

whereabouts their collective experiences grew into determiners. For henna,


researches manifest the current youth holds a desire of adopting this cultural
practice on the purpose of expressing their identities, hence, their bodies
possess fetish and commodification (Onur n.d.). This theoretical framework
has been demonstrated in the henna assumption among the youth in India,
Vietnam and the West.

Indian

For the Indian young generation, wearing mehndi or henna represents not
only culture preservation but also identity marker of themselves. The Indian
youth largely has a deep understanding about henna as it is a part of their
culture, in terms of its distinct cultural signification or spiritual meaning,
existence on festive occasions, as well as proper positioning.
Nidhi, India, earnestly convey henna patterns and its positioning, Henna in
my country has western designs but mostly its small detailed designs. On
weddings, the bride usually has henna which goes up to their elbows while
henna usual stance is on women hands.
Henna is considered as a sign of good luck as whenever weddings, festivals,
we put henna, as a sign of happiness and luck. A proper Indian henna
painting should be drawn on only the woman's hand, not on either the neck
or hand brace. In India, there is henna art class in which I have attended
when I was young. I have two kids, a son and a daughter, for my daughter,
although she hasnt got any mehndi, she knows about the signification of
henna drawings. - Ms. Greeni Maheshwari, an Indian teacher at RMIT
sharing her perspective of henna.
It can be seen that Henna in India is considered as a virtually cultural
practice that is preserved by generations. When adolescents grow, especially
girls are taught by the adults about how to draw henna tattoos and bring

them to some Henna classes. Supportingly, Nidhi also said that she had
never seen a woman who did not have a henna painting on her wedding
even brides or big festivals. This is revealed that Henna is also an
indispensable art in India at special occasions. Consequently, the significance
of Henna design and position are well recognized by the young generation at
their early age.

Western and Vietnamese

Nevertheless, when henna travels to other countries, it could not keep its
origin anymore in India. David Howes asserts that when commodities cross
national and cultural boundaries, the cultural categories they reinforce might
be different from the ones they originally invoked (Maira 2000). Besides that,
it cannot be denied henna tattoo is fascinating to both Westerners and
Asians to who do not desire to have permanent things, such as tattoo and
vice versa. They regard henna as a beautiful art which can be drawn
anywhere on their bodies. Furthermore, this Indian culture practice can be
considered as a non-threatening and accessible way to change womens
appearance.
I feel more confident and beautiful whenever I wear Henna on my bodys
parts, such as: hands, shoulders and ankles. There is an interesting point
that when I got an infinity henna tattoo on my shoulder, surprisingly my
friends started asking about what it is and what it means because it is very
cool and acceptable kind of tattoos. After a few days, I saw that some of my
girlfriends got it too. - Tran Minh Anh, a Vietnamese high school student.
A Western exchange student at RMIT - Marie said, Girls in French do it like
makeup to feel pretty and the design of Henna in my country is quite
different from its original version. They usually use Western models to
display on their bodies, for instance, dreamcatcher, infinity and anchor.

Personally, these tattoos all have its own meanings which are defined by
their owners.

Those responses have revealed the different signification acknowledgement


between the Indian youth and other religion youth, the Vietnamese and
Western one in particular.
Henna art involves the combination of spiritual and divine component to a
personal that displays the meaning of the design to everyone sees it (Sherr
2000). This perception was implied in the mindset of Western audience. They
believe henna as a strong and spiritual segment that directly connects their
culture with a primal and universal effort, thus, there will be a deep meaning
beyond the materialistic and capitalist Western world (Sherr 2000).

An exchange at RMIT from Danish - Nancy implies her opinion about Henna
tattoo: In Denmark it is more an ethnical symbol, it is a beauty culture more
than a religious symbol in my opinion.

Western people apply this non-permanent tattoo to link the deeper


spirituality by its implementation on their bodies as a vehicle for selfrealization purpose (Sherr 2000). Further, the activities of other attaching
rites and rituals on bodies are the methods to emerge what they have been
lost within themselves. The fact that Westerners have a strong characteristic
that always seek to identify their individuality and uniqueness which can be
distinct themselves from tons of individualities in the modern community
(Sherr 2000). Meanwhile, some Vietnamese youth also recognized these
henna tattoos bring the luckiness to their lives.

Luong Thi Thu, a Henna artist in Vietnam, told a story about her client: I
have drawn for a guy and told him it was a blessing figure, and sometimes
later, we accidentally meet again, he told me that after that day, he was
employed. He felt that henna was good luck. Since then every time having
the decision to prepare anything or going away, he came to me to get a
Henna painting. That can actually be lucky or it would be a coincidence but
I'm sure that, henna did help by bringing joy and satisfaction to him.

In summary, the designs and patterns of Henna are literally seemed to be a


marker for the youth to specify and advertise their specialties in the greater
society and culture.
3. Fashion Craze and Desires
Tattoo in general and henna in particular are central to a part of youth
identity that highlighting both the desires and fashion craze of the current
young generation.
a. Fashion craze
This generation, they are looking for the latest fashion trend, particularly, the
must-have mentality and items (Barker 2002). Being tattooed is an act of
this innovation (Johnson 2007). In this day and age, tattoo adoption has
become more commensurate than other consumption that the young is in
quest of beautifying their bodies pursuant to present-day fashion norms
(Kjeldgaard & Bengtsson 2005). Further, Hong and Geum (2012) expound
henna design rapidly emerged as a new style in fashion art which
exemplified a postmodern phenomenon and it is expanding beyond the
unique identity owing to arbitrary and imprudent industrialization. The henna
culture covers the possibility of turning into the fashion style that carries a
unique ambiance (Hong & Geum 2012). Although young generations are not
engaged in the arts, they enter to countenance, cues and signs to form the
young person existence, identity and meaning (Barker 2002). Henna has

been introduced as a fashion style for, since then, henna fashion trend is
quickly developing in the domestic market (Hong & Geum 2012).
During the interview with Mrs. Greenie, an Indian lecturer at RMIT University,
she confided in her perspective and personal experiences toward this
ongoing fashion craze : Its more like a fashion part. And you know it looks
beautiful so I think because of that the youth want to have it, but I dont
think they think its spiritual or something relates to the religion. Old
generation like us, we feel henna is a sign of happiness and good luck, or on
festive occasions but for young generation I think its more about fashion.
And also Nga, a Vietnamese student conveys her Im in love with bohemian
style and henna is a necessary accessory for my outfit. It makes me more
fashionable. Overall, due to the barriers of obtaining a real tattoo, the youth
prefers henna to reveal their fashion style, and in some way, henna did
become a modish fashion ornament for the young generation.
b. Desires of self- expression
Henna tattoo embarks on the quest to express individual distinction that has
been inscribed in time among adolescents and college alliances. Henna can
be a process of self-exploration and self-affirmation. The youth uses it to
express themselves, life experiences, and the way they perceive themselves
in relation to others and to their community (Kang and Jones 2007). In fact,
henna tattoo is believed to replace real tattoo to create a sense of
belongingness to a social group, in which they are accepted, known and
valued.
Tattooing is a way of expression and allows asserting ones identity and
individuality, showing their uniqueness. I wanted to get a tiger painting by
henna on the arm at the age of 9 with another friend, which intimates the
tattoo of the big brother of my friend. However, the law does not allow

citizens to be tattooed under 18, hence, I find a way which is henna.- Alex,
a Sweden student from Stockholm.
In addition, at a stage, when young people are seeking to proclaim their
independence, the tattooing experience leaves young people the feeling of
greater esteem and control over their own life.
Minh Nguyen, a RMIT student said: I think teenager do henna tattoo to
replace the real tattoo. Like me, I have henna tattoo to look cool,mature
and independent so it is to show to others that I am like that..
In general, on that account, henna is a method which prevents teenagers to
make a tattoo as they want. The desires to have a real tattoo and follow the
fashion craze did promote the youth to have henna tattoo.
V. Conclusion
To conclude, the flow of henna art has imprinted a strong impact on the
young generation, by representing the youth identity. Those analysis has
demonstrated three stimulations that provoke young people to adopt henna,
namely youth resistance opposed to social stereotype, identity marker, and
fashion craze and desire of self-expression. It could be predicted that henna
tattoo might continuously create an artistry phenomenon among young
generation.

VI.

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