Hanan Sultan Rhymes Frankincense with Minimalism
Interview by Sophie Arni
Published on August 23, 2020
I first discovered necklaces and rings by Omani designer Hanan Sultan on Instagram and was immediately drawn to their minimal shape and play on texture. The pieces from her most recent collection bring out raw and natural material with subtlety and elegance. When I learned that they were made of Hojari Frankincense –– sourced directly from Oman –– my curiosity sparked. Based between Muscat, Dubai, and London, Sultan is a young designer who blurs the line between fashion, art, and jewelry. She is globally-minded, and it shows in her pieces. She has also developed close links to the United Arab Emirates, making her a perfect addition to our E-Issue 01 AUH/DXB ++ features.
Sultan decided to explore frankincense in jewelry for “its historic and contemporary characteristic similarities to gold.” In Omani culture, frankincense is a commodity given to a bride at her wedding by her groom. As she describes it, “frankincense is a type of resin that is usually used in incense and scents,” burning at weddings “as a sign of the emerging of two souls.” Her Hojari Frankincense pieces are thus not only aesthetically stunning and culturally significant, but they carry a divine smell too. “The body’s natural emittance of heat will help the scent of the frankincense to spread from the skin into the air,” Sultan explains.
Having just presented her 2020 Graduate Collection at Central Saint Martins, Sultan shared with us her work philosophy, her personal connection to frankincense, and her dream collaborations. This interview is meant for you to discover her work and help support the launch of her promising career.
Sophie Arni: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your connections to Muscat, Dubai, and London?
Hanan Sultan: I am a 22-year-old Omani that was born and brought up in Muscat, Oman, and have studied in Muscat, New York, and London. Most recently, I graduated from Central Saint Martins with a B.A. in Jewellery Design. I spent a lot of my childhood traveling to Dubai and London as I always had big dreams of living and starting my career in these two major cities. I am thankful to say that I have been living in London for the past four years and have spent the last two summers working internships in Dubai where I plan to be based after moving from London.
2. Hanan Sultan, Kumma Crown (2020). Montage proposed with 18ct gold plated silver, Hojari Frankincense and food colour. Copyright Hanan Sultan. Courtesy of Hanan Sultan. Photo: Abeer Sultan.
S.A.: Your UAL biography says that you “love both fine arts and fashion and find that jewelry is the perfect middle ground between the two.” Could you elaborate on how jewelry brings in both passion for fine arts and fashion?
H.S.: Jewelry incorporates different aspects of my passion for fine arts and fashion. At a surface-level, jewelry is part of fashion, it is universally used as an adornment to the body alongside garments and other accessories. However, on a deeper level, jewelry like other forms of art, is an object that carries meaning, history, value, and journey. Jewelry does not only consider the journey of the wearer, but it also considers that of the designer, the maker, and the manifestation journey of the object itself. Fine arts and fashion have both been forms of personal expression to me. I started noticing how people express themselves using fashion at a very young age and was allowed to express myself through drawings and paintings. The more I looked into it, the more I realized that jewelry allows personal expression through 2D, 3D, and 4D arts and design.
The more I looked into it, the more I realized that jewelry allows personal expression through 2D, 3D, and 4D arts and design.
Jewelry can be looked at as wearable art and could be passed down through generations as heirlooms or gifts. It is a part of the designer and how they wish to pass a piece of themselves onto the next generation. My designs are very personal, experimental, and are all one of a kind. Like Jackson Pollock, an Abstract Expressionist, I initially dance with my brush and let the concept, material, and tools guide me through the journey and processes of designing and making.
S.A.: You have incorporated Hojari Frankincense into your practice and created a collection with it. How did you first encounter this material? Do you work with it in a rough texture or find yourself often polishing?
H.S.: My first encounter with Hojari Frankincense was probably when I was really young. I don’t remember a time where I did not know what it was. Growing up as an Omani in Muscat, it was and still is everywhere. It is in our homes, malls, souqs and even in our food. It is predominantly grown in Dhofar in the South of Oman, at the famous site of The Land of Frankincense. I start by working with raw and rough Hojari Frankincense, in its natural form of extraction before fabricating it into what you can see.
Growing up as an Omani in Muscat, [Hojari Frankincense] was and still is everywhere.
5. Hanan Sultan, Hojari Frankincense Necklace II in Hojari Frankincense (2020). Silk thread. Copyright Hanan Sultan. Courtesy of Hanan Sultan. Photo: Mona Haidar.
6. Hanan Sultan, Signet Rings in Hojari Frankincense (2020). Satin silk ribbon. Copyright Hanan Sultan. Courtesy of Hanan Sultan. Photo: Hanan Sultan.
7. Hanan Sultan, Hojari Frankincense Necklace I in Hojari Frankincense (2020). Silk thread and 9ct gold. Copyright Hanan Sultan. Courtesy of Hanan Sultan. Photo: Hanan Sultan.
S.A.: Your Kumma Headpiece has links to the dowry marriage traditions in Oman. Could you tell us about how this reference relates to your concept of “Neo Traditionalism”?
H.S.: My collection communicates, explores, and challenges marriage traditions in Omani culture, through different forms of jewelry. I find it extremely important to identify myself by my cultural background yet not be trapped by its traditions. This way I can keep some old, meaningful, and important traditions and make new and improved ones. According to Oxford’s definition, ‘Neo Traditional’ alludes to the revival of “traditional methods, styles, and ways of life, especially while incorporating contemporary elements or influences.”
I find it extremely important to identify myself by my cultural background yet not be trapped by its traditions.
Wanting to create a piece touching on the idea of equality in marriage, I designed a crown that resembles an already established accessory used for men. My crown version of the Kumma is created for women as a female version of a Kumma to be gifted to a bride on their wedding day as a commitment of having equality within their marriage, breaking away from the gender roles of our societies. When presented as part of the dowry, it is presented for its symbolic means rather than its materialistic values in forms of traditional jewelry. I have recreated the tradition of giving a dowry by rejuvenating its real purpose by creating an already existing accessory alongside the contemporary use of the traditional material.
S.A.: Which occasions would be appropriate to wear your jewelry?
H.S.: Different pieces would be appropriate for different occasions. Some, like the Kumma Crown, are made for brides to wear on their wedding day, most appropriately at ‘the Arabic/Omani Wedding’. Other more subtle pieces such as the Signet Rings in Hojari Frankincense could be worn on a daily basis.
S.A.: What other artist or designer would you dream of collaborating with, and who would be your dream customer?
H.S.: I dream of collaborating with Annamaria Cammilli, Elsa Peretti, and Paloma Picasso. My dream customers would have to be Ahlam Al Shamsi, Balqees Fathi, and Kim Kardashian West.