Bagh in Real Life
“Bagh-e Hind: Scent Translations of Mughal & Rajput Garden-Paintings”
at The Institute for Art and Olfaction, Los Angeles (USA), curated by
Bharti Lalwani & Nicolas Roth
15 July - 12 August 2022 ; Opening Night: Friday, 15th July, 6-8 PM
Our first real-life exhibition finally opens at the Institute for Art & Olfaction (Los Angeles) in two weeks and I can hardly contain my excitement! Between January to June, my co-curator Nicolas Roth and I have been expanding our individual practices while simultaneously building off each others work— we have been writing, sketching, gardening, painting, smelling and tasting the worth of our ideas. While our online exhibition encompasses elements borrowed from numerous museum-institutions, we had to strategize differently for an offline show that would be more than visually sumptuous by offering a space where the olfactive cues within each painting can be experienced by the public. As we poured over every detail between LA, Pune and Boston— the three specific wall-paint colours, the number of plinths and shelves and the variety of plants and vases we could get — the support and confidence that IAO Director, Saskia Wilson Brown, provided was of immeasurable value!
First off, the five Mughal and Rajput paintings were key for display — None of them have actually been on view at the institutions they belong to, or in the case of Painting 3/ Smoke, the current location is unknown as we drew it out of an online auction catalogue. All five paintings have been reproduced to their actual size on quality paper so audiences can marvel at their lush details and appreciate why such artworks should not be referred to as “miniatures”. Painting 1/ Rose is approximately 50cm lengthwise!
Secondly, the scent-translations were integral for an offline experience, so we invited LA-based independent artist and perfumer Miss Layla to compound the perfumes based on our original notes and ingredients from last year. LA-based curator and editor of X-TRA magazine, Anuradha Vikram, went to get an advance whiff and responded with how exquisite each perfume smelled, and how Perfume 5 (Kewra) particularly captured the sensation of South Asia in a bottle.
Thirdly, this exhibition being such a great opportunity for us to show off our brilliance, we decided to commission a new range of glass flacons especially for display at the IAO. One really needs to get up-close to marvel at how beautiful and delicate these bottles are. I go the extra mile to create them at the local workshop here in Pune because once they’re in your hands, they truly reinforce a sense of conceptual and material luxury. They’re so dainty and fragile that I find myself holding my breath around them. It’s a good thing my parents were here this summer as my dad helped me pack each bottle and bottle stopper in cotton, bubble wrap and paper, so they would stay safe in transit between Pune to LA. Phew!
Additional to the glass bottles and perfume, we have on display a few soaps that carry the scent of each painting and are stamped with an 18th century Urdu verse by Mir Taqi Mir that Nicolas selected. The soaps are quite special. To represent the night sky of Painting 3/ Smoke for example, I hand-painted a simulacra of the star-burst fire-crackers — the soap even smells like fizzled acrid fireworks (Patchouli, vetiver, camphor).
This rather sculptural bunch of vetiver roots will also be on display so audiences can get close enough to inhale the scent and splendour of North Indian vetiver.
While those in LA can further immerse themselves in the olfactive landscape of Mughal-era India through bouquets of incense on display (and on sale at IAO), audiences in India can purchase our incense set in order to hold a tangible scent reference to the exhibition as it continues to exist and expand online. Our behind-the-scenes curatorial process and exhibition updates will be posted on our new page “Bagh in the real world”.
For further reading about our research, viewers can head to our new page titled “Khabar”. Both Nicolas and I have given extended interviews and written opinion pieces over the past year on how our Garden opens up a portal into the past and why that should be explored with some consideration.