086: Intersection: Sana Riyazali Merchant, Bridal Henna

Updated: Jan 16


In the previous episode, we met Keight MacLean who discussed the ways in which she fell into her work by accident and through lots of experimentation, the ways living abroad immersed in art for a year continues to impact her professional work, as well as how and why she never experiences creative block. She also discussed how she uses her artistic practice to interweave traditional and modern ideologies, techniques and stories and today’s guest agrees.


Allow me to officially introduce you to today’s guest: Sana Riyazali Merchant.


Sana Riyazali Merchant is a bridal henna artist. Henna has been her passion from a very young age. Sana’s love for henna grew even stronger after her family moved to Canada when she was a teenager and henna application became a tool for her to make friends and integrate herself socially. Sana’s henna journey led her to meet amazing people and create art that, in return, became part of the way she practiced self care. Today she cannot imagine life without henna. From the making of the henna paste to the application process and then receiving feedback from brides/clients/family, Sana is passionate about every step. She is continuously thinking of ways to take my henna to the next level. This ancient art form with its amazing healing powers has always filled Sana’s soul with love and positivity.


In our conversation, Sana and I discuss the ways in which history and culture influence her work, the interesting challenges associated with drawing on hands as canvases and how her medium (henna paste) is uniquely tricky to work with.


Key Ideas Discussed:

  • Henna has medicinal properties

  • It symbolizes health and prosperity

  • Henna started as just dots, cultural and religious symbols added, hiding of the groom's name, to now more storytelling through the henna

  • The process of the henna application is symbolic of marriage - bride needs patience + after care is important - when you take off the henna, you don't immediately see the results

  • Majority of the brides give Sana full creative control

  • In henna there's no going back; you can't erase it or redo it

  • Bridal henna is different than planning bridal makeup; there is an element of letting go, giving over control that the bride has to be okay with

  • Everyone's hands are different; canvas is different every time

  • A typical application process takes about 4.5 hours, front and back to elbow (which is fast!)

  • The reason she can do it so quickly is because of the way she sets up the work

  • Inspiration in traditional henna designs and structures and nature

  • Henna design is symmetrical from one arm to the next

  • Playing with different styles - she's trying more realistic representations of images (ex: roses)

  • The consistency of the henna paste can make or break the design and the process - this is the most challenging part of the process

  • Henna is made fresh - making of the material and trying to find consistency (it depends on the weather; humidity) - trying to achieve 'dream consistency'; the quality of the material is critical in the final art

  • Precaution is better than cure - she takes her own set-up with her

  • Creating a consistency process for applying the henna but also for creating the dream consistency henna paste

  • No two designs are the same because no two hands are the same

  • Marrying the traditional with the modern storytelling aspects; elevating the traditional aspect

  • She'd love to create a program to help others find therapeutic relief doing henna; aromatherapy in henna paste; art therapy and aromatherapy


Among many insights gained, Sana reminds us about the power of storytelling within her artistic practice. In the next episode we meet Allison, a tattoo artist who shares Sana’s feelings about how she helps share stories through her art.


Stay tuned…



Secondary podcast episode art that contains the text ‘Episode 086 Intersection: Sana Riyazali Merchant, Bridal Henna’ on a blue background and half of a yellow paper boat.

An intricate and strikingly beautiful henna design on the hands’ of a bride (up past her wrists).

An intricate and strikingly beautiful henna design on the hands’ of a bride (up to her mid-forearms).

An intricate and strikingly beautiful henna design on the hands’ of a bride (up to her elbows).

A modern bridal henna design featuring Toronto’s CN Tower, the Brooklyn Bridge and an airplane travelling between the two cities. This design also features the Toronto Raptors’ basketball logo.

The final photo depicts henna designs on the feet, ankles and legs of a bride beneath her wedding dress.

A digital illustration that depicts Sana Riyazali Merchant’s point of intersection between ‘traditional meets modern’ and ‘storytelling’. There are two overlapping circles connecting these themes and a straight line connecting her to the place where these circles meet. When connected with the 16 other artists these circles form a map.

 The complete map of the colourful, intersecting circles that represent the 17 artists and their connections to one another.

About Our Guest:

A photo of Sana wearing a tan-coloured hijab and floral shirt looking into the camera smiling.

Sana Riyazali Merchant is a bridal henna artist. Henna has been her passion from a very young age. Sana’s love for henna grew even stronger after her family moved to Canada when she was a teenager and henna application became a tool for her to make friends and integrate herself socially. Sana’s henna journey led her to meet amazing people and create art that, in return, became part of the way she practiced self care. Today she cannot imagine life without henna. From the making of the henna paste to the application process and then receiving feedback from brides/clients/family, Sana is passionate about every step. She is continuously thinking of ways to take my henna to the next level. This ancient art form with its amazing healing powers has always filled Sana’s soul with love and positivity.



Music (public domain via Free Music Archive): Chad Crouch - Rainbow


Talk Paper Scissors Theme Music: Retro Quirky Upbeat Funk by Lewis Sound Production via Audio Jungle

Boat Origami Photo: Boat Origami Photo byAlex onUnsplash



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