Mamoii Ali finds a sense of belonging in Oklahoma City’s increasingly diverse culture through sharing the ancient art of henna tattooing – a skill that has been passed down through her family as a cultural marker. Ethnically Indian and Pakistani, Ali grew up in the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago before coming to the United States and eventually to Oklahoma in 2011.
Since arriving in the state with her family and launching her henna tattoo business five years ago, Ali says she has developed an “ultimate” love for the art, which is beautiful and full of meaning – much like she is.
How did you first become aware of or interested in the artistry of henna?
As I am an Indo-Carribean American, henna (better known in my culture as “mehendi”) is something I grew up with as a little girl. I watched and partook in circles of sisterhood that were filled with giggles, henna and enriching stories. My friends and I would often buy cones at the Muslim marketplace and go to town with swirls and lines on our hands. It was an abundance of fun! Skip to five years ago, my nieces asked me to work on some really intricate designs on their hands, and that was the start of my ultimate love for the art of henna. I then wanted to introduce a piece of this culture to others around me.
Could you educate our readers about this art form and describe the intention behind it?
We learned growing up that it was a form of beautification for women in our culture, along with a connection to sisterhood; symbolism of joy and beauty. For me, there aren’t any significant or sacred meanings behind the designs. However, each culture – Asian, Middle Eastern or African – has its own connection with henna, what it means to them, and how it represents aspects of their traditions.
How have you navigated the pandemic with such a personal and one-on-one business?
Honestly, trying to stay afloat with henna during this pandemic has been a roller coaster to say the least. I reduced my contact with others to ensure the safety of myself and others surrounding me. I took a step back from taking one-on-one appointments, as cafes had strict guidelines to follow, and I focused on bridal henna, as it was usually a more controlled environment between the bride and me. I took the time to rebrand my business to be more in tune with my vision and personality.
What do you love about working and living in OKC?
Working and living in OKC has been so fulfilling. I have met a myriad of people who have contributed to the development of my small space in the community. Additionally, it has been a community that is growing in a direction that highlights BIPOC businesses, and I am proud to be a part of that growth.
Do you have a favorite OKC spot?
Anyone who knows me knows that my favorite spot in OKC is anything to do with coffee. Currently my two go-to spots are Eote and Flower and Flour Cafe.