nialwak at henna mural opening 1 1

Fatima Athow


Folk Art, Heritage, Visual

Contact: Fatima Athow
Phone: (814) 790-7999
(814) 232-8299
(814) 746-9836
Erie, PA

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Artist Statement

We are able to come to your home or business. Henna is social. It is for happiness. It is our tradition to do henna at celebrations. If you hire us, all your guests will get a small or medium-sized temporary henna tattoo. If you want an exact picture of something, then we are not the right artists for you.  We are traditional artists. Your guests will receive a beautiful, traditional design. Every design is different and comes from our heart. We create them in the moment.


2 hours – up to 10 tattoos --  $250

3 hours – up to 20 tattoos -- $350


This price is for parties in Erie County. For events far away, we will charge a bit more.


We prefer to use a black hair dye for our tattoos. It dries quickly and it looks good. We can also offer natural henna. It is red, and not as dark. It takes longer to dry. The tattoos last about one-two weeks.


Henna can be for women, men, and children. It is our tradition to do only small henna tattoos on children, and only on hands or arms.


We recommend you call us at least one week in advance.


Fatima Athow and Afaf Kormouna are henna artists from Sudan.


Henna is a natural dye from a plant that grows in countries that surround the Indian Ocean. It is used for temporary tattoos, hair, and nail coloring in cultures in East Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. The leaves are dried, ground into a powder and mixed with water to form a paste. Henna tattoos are usually beautiful abstract patterns on the hands and feet. Henna is important to many cultures of different faiths, including Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. The one thing they all share is a big, traditional wedding ceremony. Henna plays an important role. The bride gets beautiful henna on her hands and her feet. The henna tattoo goes from the toes to the knee and from the ends of the fingers to the elbow. This is the first time a woman gets a lot of henna. This is the only day she will get this much henna. Henna shows that a girl has become a woman.


Afaf Kormouna  started practicing henna when she was a teenager in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. She is also a master at hair braiding and says, “For African women, hair and henna go together.” She came to Erie in 2004.   Fatima Athow grew up in Sudan and is part of the Shilluk people. She started as a traditional bead artist as a young girl. She came to the United States in 2002. She studied henna from Afaf and now they do henna for Erie’s Sudanese, Somali, and Iraqi weddings and for the general public. Both Afaf and Fatima have received recognition from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts as master artists, and awarded grants to pass their tradition down to their daughters and others in Erie’s Sudanese community.


Afaf, Fatima, and their daughters have done workshops and demonstrations at the Erie Art Museum, the Erie Blues & Jazz Festival, CelebrateErie, and the Susquehanna Folk Festival.


Artist Statement

Henna is part of our culture. Henna is used for social events like weddings, prom, and Mother’s Day. Henna is for happiness and celebration. Henna is how we stay connected to our Sudanese culture. All Sudanese people know henna. Everyone who sees henna loves it, even Americans. They ask and want to know what the henna means. A long time ago only married women do henna. Now teenage girls do henna, but never on their feet, only their hands


For the Sudanese we always have big weddings. A bride without henna is like a bride without a beautiful dress. It is as important as the wedding ring. Henna makes the bride feel beautiful and loved. When we do henna for a bride we give her a blessing.  Henna is our way to show respect for a special day. When Fatima returned to Africa to visit, all the women in her had henna because they celebrated her visit.


You can make henna with hair dye and with natural material from leaves of the henna plant. We cannot grow the leaves to make henna in the United States so people must bring it from Africa. Sudanese people like to use black henna from hair dye so that it will look good and stay for a long time on our hands and feet. The hair dye henna also dries more quickly and is easier to use.


Every henna design we do is different. We do not copy a picture or do names or words. We create the design in the moment. When we hold the henna bag, the design comes to us.



2022 Short Documentary of Henna Workshop at Quality of Life Learning Center by Tom Weber  

2020 Documentary on Nialwak and Ashol by McDowell High School filmmaker

2020 Video by Nialwak to commemorate World Refugee Day

2020 Erie Blues & Jazz Festival broadcast with Nialwak and Ashol part 1

2020 Erie Blues & Jazz Festival broadcast with Nialwak and Ashol part 2


Afaf henna design

Afaf henna design

Afaf henna design

Afaf henna design

Fatima henna design

Fatima henna design

Nialwak and client copy v2

Nialwak and client copy v2

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