Notes from Litrahb Perfumery
Infrequent Newsletter #02
Dreaming, wondering, wandering:
“Bagh-e Hind”, a virtual exhibition that delves into the sensory aspects of South Asian paintings from the 17th and 18th century launched on 10th September. This Bagh (Garden) appeared to me as a fully formed exhibition-concept in my mind in 2018 when I used to habitually browse the digitised South Asian art collections in the repositories of Western museums and institutions. Seeing as access to them was always going to be virtual, I wondered if there were artistic or poetic ways to draw out the experience of such historically significant paintings for the public to consume. Could I inhale them, or perhaps taste them?
This summer, I invited Nicolas Roth, a US based Scholar of early modern South Asia, to explore and co-curate the under-evaluated but integral fragments of South Asian history. Together, we defined the sensuality of this period for the first time through 18th century poetry, sound, paintings, gardens and fragrance that reflected on the intellectual, religious, cultural and even romantic dimensions of this period.
Between June and August, I produced Synesthesia translations (extrait de parfum, perfume flacon, tea, incense) from our discussion around five Mughal and Rajput paintings that the historian selected for their complex olfactory elements. Audiences can indulge in the exhibition and purchase the limited edition Synesthesia artwork from our Gift Shop that brings the splendour of these illustrations to your nose and palate.
Flavours of Love and Longing:
Berkeley based architect Uzair Siddiqui is recreating one of our five paintings in Bagh-e Hind as a fragrant Channa Daal Halwa. Order your Diwali Mithai Box from our Shop between now and 30th October 2021. Each Box comes with a set of incense from our exhibition to create a compressed synesthesia experience. (Edition Size: 10 Boxes, USA only: $50 (inclusive of shipping, Venmo: @uzairsiddiqui)
As an extension of our exhibition's offline component, Nicolas and I invited Uzair Siddiqui to translate any one of the main five paintings to flavour. He chose "Kamod Ragini" (c. 1770)/ Painting # 5 which prominently features the kewra plant. Those based in the US can now taste the love, longing and anticipation of the 'nayika' seated on a bed of flowers awaiting her lover.
Apart from this, Uzair has also matched each painting to classical Hindustani music or Raag so audiences can delight in the visuals, sounds and flavours combined! Click on the music icon to the left of each painting to access the sound.
Perfume of the Season: Pashmina & Mul
The fragrance for fall-winter season simulates the scent of a warm cashmere shawl with hints of narcotic lotus, violets, lilacs, animalic musk and sandalwood. The inspiration for such a warm, airy-cotton, woolly-velvety musk-perfume comes from Sylvia Houghteling's indepth essay on the significance of elite garments, textiles and pashmina shawls of the Mughal era. Think about the scent of your woolens with a hint of cedarwood and mothballs - that is an immediate smell-reference that comes close!
We’ve been amazed at the responses we have received from visitors just a month into the show!
In the process of designing the exhibition online, I sought to build the experience in such a manner that it left the audience gasping with wonder and delight. Bagh is split into five olfactory chapters: Rose, Narcissus, Smoke, Iris, Kewra. Each chapter has a gallery of Paintings, Objects, the Garden of my co-curator Nicolas Roth who grows some of the plant varieties illustrated in the 17th and 18th century paintings, and Synesthesia which takes you through the process and dialogue between the Perfumer and the Historian. Urdu poetry from this period, translated by Nicolas, is also discreetly embedded across the exhibition for the public to wander into.
My curatorial essay Bagh-e Hind: Resurrected Scentscapes of 17th & 18th Century India expands on the process of exhibition building.
Curatorial Tour: I usually keep my afternoons aside to take culture writers and journalists from the field of tech and politics for a virtual stroll through the Garden, so email me if you would like to schedule a tour: L.itrahb (at) gmail (dot) com
Members of the Public, outside the sphere of cultural production, may support our project by booking a Curatorial Walk-through with me via our Shop.
We got Plans!
In the coming year, Nicolas and I plan to take elements of our exhibition out of the virtual and into the real world with art installations and 18th century botanical recreations that make tangible the abstract concepts of pleasure and abundance in a manner that can be shared with the public. Our Curatorial Catalogue will be updated with our research and commissioned essays by various scholars, so please visit the site from time to time.