Aniqa Chowdhury ’26 has just begun her journey at Bowdoin and is already working to create a stronger community for herself and others. Her creative journey began after teaching herself henna at age eleven. Now, she is sharing her art with the campus community. An Instagram picture of Chowdhury’s henna-adorned arm drummed interest in her work from her Muslim friends and fellow women of color.
“I told them I can do it on [them] too because I love doing it on people. It’s nice to share tradition and culture,” Chowdhury said.
Chowdhury hopes to spark joy and share cultural traditions with students of similar socio-cultural backgrounds. This cultural community building isn’t foreign to Chowdhury, who, two years ago, set up a table in Jackson Heights, New York for Muslims in need of last-minute Eid henna.
“That’s part of building a community; people end up sharing stories about their experiences working with henna. Sometimes that gets us to talk about our celebrating being Muslim during Eid and things of that nature,” Chowdhury said.
While she has been grateful to connect with many people across campus through her art, she wants more people to learn about henna’s cultural significance. Chowdhury explains that although henna can be operationally defined as a temporary tattoo, it has a deeper and more cultural meaning.
“[Henna] has a lot of significance, and it means a lot to some people. It can make people feel beautiful in unique ways … It can also make them feel connected to parts of their culture that they usually don’t think about,” Chowdhury said.
In preparation for her henna sessions, Chowdhury finds different ways to engage in her culture, ranging from improving her Bangla literacy and watching Hindi television shows while picking out designs for each session. A novice might assume the intricate designs take a substantial amount of time to complete, but once the skill is honed, the process is a breeze.
Not only has Chowdhury been able to connect more with the Bowdoin community, she is also more personally engaged with her culture. For her, this project has emphasized the role of tradition in community-building and developing a strong sense of self.
“[Henna] means connecting to parts of my culture and self that I normally don’t think about on a daily basis,” Chowdhury said. “Henna specifically helps me remember the treasures my culture [and tradition have] and it feels really nice to claim it and make beautiful designs that people [appreciate].”