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Aspiring artist paints her own path

Friday 16 July 2021 | Written by Alana Musselle | Published in Art, Features

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Aspiring artist paints her own path
Raro Henna, Dearlove’s first step towards her career as an artist - 21071519

An eighteen-year-old aspiring artist has used her love of drawing and art to create her own business, painting henna designs as well as commissioning her own paintings to make a living for herself through creative expression. Alana Musselle reports.

Kaia Dearlove, who has both Cook Islands and New Zealand heritage, moved to Rarotonga from New Zealand when she was three years old with her parents.

She had always loved art and had been good at it from a young age, but it wasn’t until she started taking art subjects and classes at Tereora College that she was able to apply herself fully, as the school provided a handful of different subjects dedicated to growing students skill methodically.

Dearlove acknowledged those college classes helped her practice her art more. But as she came to the realisation that art was something she wanted to pursue, she felt that the rigidness of the courses was not growing her passion for art and decided to leave school and dedicate herself to finding and growing her own artistic style.

Dearlove started up a stall at the Punanga Nui Market where she has started to offer her services drawing temporary henna designs on people.

Henna is a form of body art and temporary skin decoration usually drawn on hands or legs, in which decorative designs are created on a person's body using a paste created from the powdered dry leaves of the henna plant, Lawsonia inermis.

It is a popular form of body art among the women of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Iran, Maldives, and the Muslim population of Sri Lanka, and resembles similar practices found in North Africa and the Middle East.

This kind of body art is called mehndi design in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, and in the West, it’s called henna designs.

Dearlove first started drawing henna designs on herself, her friends and her cousins after purchasing some of the paste for fun while on holiday overseas.

As her skill started to grow, she was encouraged by friends and family to start sharing her craft with more people and turn it into a small business.


Kaia Dearlove shows off one of her henna designs. 21071539

Raro Henna has now been up and running officially for three weeks at the Punanga Nui Market every Saturday. Her henna drawings come in a range of different sizes and designs, at $10 for adults and $5 for kids.

Dearlove shares the stall with her cousin who sells her own handmade candles, as well as her sister who sells handmade woven bracelets and cookies.

“It’s a bit of a random stall. It’s like a little arts and crafts creative hub,” Dearlove said.

Although this week will only be her third week at the market, she has already been very busy. Last weekend she got there at 8am and didn’t get to look up until noon.

“My hand was so sore from drawing for that entire time but I get to make a living out of doing what I love which is cool,” she said smiling.

As well as being stationed at the market every Saturday, Dearlove also does private sessions for bigger designs where clients can either come to her for their temporary body art or she goes to them.

She has worked with kids doing birthday parties as well as bigger groups of people at social gatherings.

Since leaving school she has also received her first art commission to construct a painting for a paying client.

Dearlove also creates handmade cards and prints which mainly depict drawings of animals and mandala designs. She plans to include and sell these at her market stall along with her henna services and paintings. A good mix of both locals and tourists visit her stall on Saturdays.

“I am still working towards figuring out what my personal style exactly is, and when I do this hopefully I’ll be able to hold an art exhibition around the end of next year,” she said.

For now she is focusing on establishing herself as an artist and expanding her business and livelihood here on Rarotonga, but she shared her thoughts on moving to New Zealand at some point and continuing to expand her art there or attend art school once she is 21 to grow her craft professionally.

Dearlove said her favourite thing about art and being an artist is the freedom she gets from drawing and painting.

She wanted to give a special mention to her parents who have encouraged her with her henna art, especially to share it with others and start charging for the designs because of the talent they noticed she had.

Dearlove said her dad helps her with the technical side of getting her cards and prints edited and printed, and wanted to thank her partner Mario Robati and her cousin Georgia Dearlove who join her every Saturday to help with the financial side of things while she is busy drawing.

She will be at the market again today and invited anyone, young or old, who wants to come down and get some henna done, to pop over and pay her a visit.