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Q&A: AANHPI Heritage Month Scarf Artist Sanjana Sinha


2024_AANHPI_Launch-Graphics_1X1 (1)Angel City’s 2024 AANHPI Heritage Month scarf was designed by Sanjana Sinha, an LA-based Indian-American henna artist. The scarf features flowers representing the wide range of cultures celebrated during the month of May, as well as ACFC-related details, all in Sinha’s signature style. You can shop the scarf here; 10% of proceeds will go towards the Asian-American Youth Center.

Let’s start with the scarf. What inspired your design?

I started with the center and kind of expanded my design from there. The center has three kinds of flowers, which represent Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. I chose one culture from each category and based the flowers on that. So for Asian American—I chose India because I’m Indian—and the national flower of India is the lotus. For Hawaii, I chose a hibiscus flower. And for Pacific Islanders, I chose the Philippines, and their national flower is jasmine. There are 22 total flowers in the middle, to represent Angel City.

The arches on the side design I use a lot in my artwork, so I thought it would be fitting to use that. From there, I drew a grid, and within the grid I incorporated the sun, which is also symbolic to Angel City, and I also put three little angel logos in it. 

My signature style is very floral, very swirly and free flowing, whether it’s on canvas or when I do henna on a client—so that's how the overall look came to my mind.

You’re a henna artist. Tell us about henna and its cultural significance in South Asia.

Henna is done to adorn the women for celebrations, especially weddings. So when the bride is getting ready for her big day in Indian and Pakistani cultures, there are several pre-wedding ceremonies before the actual wedding. One of them is called the henna night, where the bride and all the ladies in the family get their henna done. The whole thing is kind of a celebration. It's considered good luck, it's auspicious. And henna is actually used in North African and Middle Eastern cultures as well.

When did you get your start as an artist? And when did you start doing henna?

In elementary school I would doodle in my notebook because I was just bored in class. When I reached middle school, I was very much into fashion. So I would use my imagination and draw girls wearing cute outfits. When I got to ninth grade, I took a sketching class, and I learned how to sketch.6EAD6EA1-3E7B-4170-9EE4-F90567C74BCF (1) (1)

I'm a very girly girl, and I was little when I found out that henna is something we do to adorn our bodies—I knew this was something I would want on my hands all the time. So in college—I went to Cal State Northridge—I would just do it on my own hands for fun. My third year, my roommate was part of this international club and they were having a cultural fest on campus, with a table from each country, including India, so she asked me if I would come do henna for people at the event, and that’s where I got “discovered”—a professor asked if I would do it for their kid’s party. I charged them a very random rate and I took an Uber, which I think was like, half of what I had charged them to do it! But after that I thought, maybe I can do something with this.

I was a business student, so I started hustling. I would sit on campus and I had my roommates call in people to come get their henna done for $5, $10, and I would make money on a daily like that. Then people started finding me through Instagram, and it just took off from there. My business degree helped a lot, and here I am today doing it full time!

Talk about your personal style of henna.

When I started doing it, I would follow popular artists that I found online, who did very traditional henna. My goal was to reach that level. But somehow I started doing traditional with some modern elements mixed in. That was never my intention—I wanted to be a very traditional henna artist—but a lot of clients I got liked that my style wasn’t too traditional. That's when I discovered that this is just who I am as an artist and I should be true to myself. I mostly do Indian weddings, but I also do a lot of interracial weddings, so because their weddings aren't very traditionally Indian, but a mix of cultures, my henna style goes perfectly with that.  

Sometimes I incorporate storytelling into a design. I had one bride who was from Germany and moved to San Francisco because that's where her husband is, so I put the Cologne skyline on one arm and the Golden Gate Bridge on the other. I’ve also used the LA Dodgers logo and other things like that. I've hidden numbers, like the couple’s proposal date, or the day they met. Something that's very traditional that every bride gets done is they hide their fiancé's name in the henna, and the fiancé has to find it.

For you, what does it mean to be Indian-American?

I love being Indian. I think being Indian-American, the first thing that comes to my mind is that it's very colorful. Whether it's what we wear, what we eat, every event we throw, everything is so colorful, it's so vibrant. It's so warm and welcoming. And we are very family oriented—we treat everyone like family.

What is LA to you?

I’ve spent the majority of my life in LA, but I have lived in three very different places: Virginia, India, and LA. I would say out of all three places, LA has been the most welcoming towards me. I feel more accepted because of the diversity. There's so much culture here—different people from all parts of the world come to LA, and there’s so much happening here and so many opportunities.