Exit via Giftshop
The soullessness of museum giftshops came into sharp relief in the opening scenes of Marvel Studio’s latest, Moon Knight. The bumbling protagonist, a self-described museum “gift shop-ist”, is shown to be on his way to work. The exterior shots unambiguously imply this is at The British Museum. Infact, the first glimpse the audience gets of this museum is in its inverse reflection in a puddle the protagonist steps on and disrupts as he makes his way there. In this split second shot, we see Gods of ancient Egypt, upside down, on banners advertising a blockbuster exhibition.
Ever since art critics such as myself saw the opening sequence of Marvel’s Black Panther, which offered us so much to unpack about the display of colonial loot and curatorial gatekeeping, we’ve been keeping our eyes peeled for more such meta-narratives that can convey, in just a few seconds of screen time, an encapsulation of all the fraught discourse around this subject. I don’t think any of us flinched at the death of the museum-curator in that opening scene. Lisa Ragbir deconstructs this for Hyperallergic in a piece I keep revisiting: What Black Panther Gets Right About the Politics of Museums
In the first few minutes of world building, Moon Knight’s episode 01 takes us into the gift shop itself and later, down the dimly lit basement where culture, reduced to pieces of plastic junk, is inventoried and prepared for sale. Each time a miniature Mummy-sculpture is picked up and scanned, “Beep” goes the ambient embodiment of that special neo-colonial-late-capitalist-consumerist vibe. In this depressing scene, our protagonist tries to tell his supervising manager that the museum’s marketing department has made “a major blunder” in the posters advertising the exhibition on ancient Egypt. The main inaccuracy being the depiction of seven gods instead of nine. But Donna doesn’t give a damn, and that is how I know she’s going to get murdered in the second episode. *Beep*.
In a recent podcast interview with Fatima Arif, I wondered about the general dreadfulness of museum shops and how I attempted to create the best Gift Shop I could imagine for my exhibition Bagh-e Hind. Exit via Giftshop was a nod to Banksy’s 2010 documentary film Exit through the Giftshop. It opened between September 2021 - February 2022. Some objects listed here can still be made on request while I continue to craft new synesthesia items available through my Newsletter.
*Off topic: Bahlam Maak by Egyptian singer Nagat El-Sagheera played so softly in the background during one scene as our vegan “gift shopist” awaits a date who does not show up — and he proceeds to order a steak. As his heart visibly sinks, Nagat hollers “lai lai lai”. Sigh!
In Newsletter 04, I urged my audience to “eat” the exhibition by presenting Bagh-e Hind as Edible Perfume™️. I have tested it two ways with kulfi and dark chocolate truffles, both tasted lush! Composed of sugar, dehydrated mango, and apricot jam all perfumed mainly with extracts of jasmine, rose and lemon, this is a wonder to taste, especially with saffron ice-cream.
I have decided to do nothing about organizing a proper Shop for the time being. Readers can hit reply to this Newsletter to enquire about the Micro-Perfumes of the Season. I like how quickly the perfumes are snapped up and I can move on to the next creative pursuit. I like small, self contained, uncomplicated explorations, especially because I have been waking up with too many great ideas to keep up with since 2018. It’s a problem.
Packaging: The issue that keeps cropping up. My perfume presentation comes in solid silver compact or custom-made glass flacon. But that drives the prices so high that it becomes unaffordable to those who would like to engage with my work. I’ve cut this down to its bare bones - 5ml to 12ml attar bottles, and 10ml plastic spray-bottles that are absolutely fuss free. Once you collect enough of them, return them back to me for a refill if possible.
Recently, master perfumer and unwavering purchaser of my edible perfumes, Christophe Laudamiel lifted the veil on how corporations make decisions on marketing perfumes:
“There’s the parent companies and the department stores. And in between, there are marketing and design teams (…) who decide how the perfume bottles should look and how the bottle should be packaged. Most of the money is spent on the design of the bottle. And the parent companies of these fashion houses like L’Oreal which produce scents for Lancôme, Yves Saint Laurent and Giorgio Armani (…), want to get the cheapest juice they can.”
More here: I’m the perfumer who created the scent you love to hate — ABERCROMBIE & FITCH’S FIERCE
While Christophe confirmed that big corporations spend just under 60 cents for the perfume in each bottle, I can emphasize that independent perfumers such as myself spend most of our budget on raw materials: tuberose, tobacco, musk and isolates…
By the time we’re done sourcing, we’ve little left for spending on upscale packaging, photography or marketing. Supporting independent artists rather than buying a perfume from Sephora makes a tangible impact and I would like to encourage my readers to make such ethical evaluations for themselves.
Frankincense & Coffee as perfume ($70/ 5ml) and incense ($35/ 24 sticks)
A few grams of Tuberose perfume ($70/ 5ml)
Bagh-e Hind edible perfume ($25/ 20 gm)
Glass flacon & incense holder: I usually custom-make them on request ($50 +)
Bagh-e Hind as incense: Saffron, sandalwood, rose, mango & tonka bean compose this season’s incense. Where the thick Frankincense & Coffee incense is definitely meant for the outdoor space, this new edition is decidedly for the indoors. Delicate and smoke-free, it has an impressive burn time of 50 minutes. ($35/35 sticks)
Nag Champa perfume: I crafted a magnificent version of the traditional “Nag Champa” for patrons of Asia Society (NY) in 2019-2020. It captured what the brief requested: the richness of the Southeast Asian landscape, its flavours and aromas that “cannot be found in any boutique in NYC”. I made a Betel leaf absolute from scratch and blended it with an accord of nutmeg, calamansi lime, ylang ylang, frangipani, Cambodian agarwood (oudh) and Indonesian sandalwood. I am reformulating this masterpiece once more. Hit reply to reserve your batch ($80/5ml).