In Good Hands: Craft, Cooking and Care in Somalia

Scholar and cook Fozia Ismail delves into the earthy and feminine world of henna design in her home country.

The colour of warmth, love and laughter (2020) by Fozia IsmailDesign Indaba

Intimate spaces, intricate work

Scholar and cook Fozia Ismail's collaborative work documents the intimate space of henna application amongst women in Somalia. Explore a  tradition that has been maintained by the Somali diaspora wherever they have landed in the world. 

Portrait of Fozia IsmailOriginal Source: Design Indaba

Introducing Fozia

Fozia is a scholar, cook and founder of Arawelo Eats, a platform for exploring politics, identity and colonialism through East African food. She has  delivered workshops and presentations for organisations such as Keep It Complex, Serpentine Gallery and Tate Modern.

The colour of warmth, love and laughter (2020) by Fozia IsmailDesign Indaba

Collaboration and care

In her work The colour of  Henna, Fozia collaborated with Fardosa Hussein, a documentary photographer and videographer based in Somalia who photographed a henna ceremony. She provided an atmospheric series of photos of two young women doing henna. The photos speak to Somali women’s hands and craft, cooking and care. 

The energy and stillness of henna

 Henna is usually applied before a celebratory event and Fozia  associates it ''with fun-filled, chatty rooms that are buzzing away with an energy of anticipation but also the application process of henna forces a sort of pauseand stillnes upon the hands it's being applied to.'' 

The colour of Somalia

For Fozia the color she associates with Somalia is is henna, which, as she states,  ''varies from light orange to deep brown. It also has a particularly earthy smell that is deeply centring and uplifting. I remember that smell.''

Taking inspiration

Fozia was inspired to create an image of henna being applied by the cover of Hawa Hassan's book on henna. 

The craft and care of Somalia's women

Speaking further about henna appilcation, Fozia concludes ''There is something so familiar about care that is taken to colour and pattern the hands, whether it’s just a simple tip of fingers or or more intricate designs for celebrations. When I see this, it reminds me of the comfort and care that our mothers, aunties and grandmothers take with cooking, crafting and praying. This picture by Fardosa beautifully represents Somalia. 

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