Wearable Anger (extrait de parfum)
"Wearable Anger" is a perfume that transforms my “complaints” into a beautiful, literal thing that goes out into the world so that we could all fume together!
Pictured: Tuberose concrete, Tuberose absolute, and "burnt tuberose" perfume on a tester strip. Concrete is the fatty wax obtained from fresh flowers through hexane extraction. From there, this waxy substance is washed in ethanol to produce an "absolute" oil. Like the CO2 extraction process, this procedure is conducted at room temperature which keeps the botanical materials’ flavour and aromatic profile intact. This is why tuberose absolute smells like not just the flower but the entire plant, fleshy green stems and all.
As much as possible, I have put photographs of perfumery materials and explained their extraction processes on my multisensory research project Bagh-e Hind. The Smoke chapter is unique. Here, the Synesthesia gallery has close up video recordings of precious materials such agarwood, sandalwood and frankincense slowing burning and releasing scented fumes.
Wear it like silk
This perfume, tuberose smoked on different woods (cedar, sandal, agar, buddhawood), is a carrier for how creative yet constrained I have felt over the last year. In some part, this feeling stems from having to bury a mountain of magnificent ideas because I cannot bring them to fruition on my own. But how does one bury several mountains?
The ingredients in this new perfume, are too many to list but mainly, tuberose + jasmine sambac absolute build the bones of this formulation. As concentrates, both are unpleasant-smelling straight out the bottle and I like it like that. This sense of dirt and decomposition they offer, encapsulates how I feel when I make myself visible in prudish art/academic spaces— like the “the great unwashed” being looked upon with disdain by those who live in their “nice” worlds, where even the air they breathe is cleaner. Behind this veil of nice, defined by those in dominion, as rational, legitimate, sterile, is the vigilant purging of emotional truths.
Grease and Sweat: Race and Smell in Eighteenth-Century English Culture by William Tullett, Cultural and Social History, 2016, Vol. 13, no. 3, 307–322
Mary Shelley’s extraordinary monster must have felt and smelt wretched in the face of unrelenting hypocrisies of Victorian English society! As I identify with the monster, not the unethical scientist who brought it to life, I have been taking delight in cutting through “nice” with the opulence of night blooming white flowers, decomposing leaves and civet in undiluted potent doses through my latest perfume. Like the Monster who has the courage to free itself from its Master and endure in an absurd world, I am interested in freely sharpening my complaints into equally absurd yet enjoyable responses. Who revels in these facets of risk and pleasure in my work and who is offended by them is revealing in itself.
Wearable Anger comes with two rules. My literal anger-as-virtue-as-perfume is only available in limited edition 3ml quantities. Once they are all sold I literally cannot possess this feeling over my buried mountains anymore.
This particular scent opens with a surprisingly clean tuberose note, the smoke, tar and indole notes come later. However, this experience may vary from person to person. My excellent girlfriends who tested out Wearable Anger were surprised by how gentle and elegant it smelled. They expected wafts of aggression but got a vision of white flowers and a cool gentle night breeze carrying the scent of tuberoses instead. Even with its “dirt” facets, Wearable Anger articulates with precision, an old knife with the rust sharpened off.
I folded each perfume into silk brocade that embodies this vision of night blooming florals in colour and pattern, so one has the experience of unwrapping something rather precious.
Finally a “Rose” I like!
The last "🌹" I formulated, sold out, even after I kept dissuading clients from acquiring it. I’m glad no one listened to me, bought it anyway, and loved it!
I have found the local rose extract to have a sticky-sweet "gulkand" note that reminded me of my childhood vacationing in hot Jaipur where I first ate homemade gulkand from roses grown by my uncles in the backyard. Crafting the "Rose" of my intentions has been so elusive and irritating, so this time, I simplified things by first eliminating the source of my chagrin— the rose absolute.
What I have now is rose otto, lavender absolute, geranium, clary sage, peppermint, oakmoss, lilac, violet, black tea CO 2, vetiver + orange peel CO 2, some aldehydes, irones, linalool and galaxolide! Powdery, cool, minty, slightly sweet, not syrupy! I’ve spent the week wearing this perfume and taking naps. Highly recommended.
Last month, I delighted not one but two Catherines through curatorial tours of Bagh-e Hind (which I offer by invitation only, or book a tour for $100 on my giftshop):
*Catherine Asher, Professor Emerita at University of Minnesota, and a revered specialist in Islamic and Indian art, asked if this project materialises as an exhibition and a smell + pop up book as I intended. Well, those are my idea-mountains I am burying until I have the means to make such undertakings possible.
Asher very generously left a response on BagheHind.com commending me and my former collaborator, Nicolas Roth, on our curation that paired the intellectual and horticultural substance of the late Mughal era together with sensory delights and pleasures through a method historians neither envisioned possible nor valued until recently. For instance, the specific variety of jasmine flower and plant identified in a painting dictates the use of that specific jasmine extract in the smell and flavour translation of that image. The hyper-specificity and rigour with which Roth and I identified trees, flowers, exact plant species, soil, season, time of day, fruits, birds, animals, bees, in each 17th century Mughal and Rajput painting along with their socio-political subtexts, offer valuable strategies through which to uncover new meanings and experiences of the past.
With each curatorial tour I have given since 2021, I continue to see the expansive worth of our combined research and practical expertise. To this day, absolutely no one has brought forward any critique as there are no flaws or gaps in my concept. So, I am not nice about expressing gratitude for crumbs that institutions tend to offer my way. Since this newsletter is about anger, I will continue to retain my saltiness about this lack of acknowledgement (and lack of citation) of our significant contribution to the field of South Asian art and history.
*Catherine Liu, Professor of Film & Media Studies at UC Irvine, is the author of Virtue Hoarders, that I read in order to understand contemporary class dynamics and performative identities within institution-spaces. She is the best! We chatted about her personal smell memories like “cigarette smoke trapped in wool carpet in a hotel in 1990s” which might actually be possible to recreate, and shared plenty of laughs!
East of Where? My perfumer friend Dana El Masri was interviewed recently by Perfume Room podcast where she discusses plagiarism in the fragrance field as well as her experience of and push back against orientalism in the perfume industry.
Sabotaged by the perfection of my own work? Those who bought my Louise Bourgeois soaps said it is too beautiful to use. This has been a problem since day one. USE THEM and BUY MORE!! Luxury communism means that we don’t hoard pleasure, we enjoy nice things while we can!
Hoarders of the Last Soap: My ongoing work with 17th century painting to soap translations further articulates a gleeful politics of pettiness, vengeance and fun that can be viewed on Instagram. I got the idea from my soap hoarders - if institutions are hoarding knowledge from us, we can actively hoard pleasure (soaps) from them. Ha!
The exhibition that never was
I would stay quiet, undisturbed and content, isolated in my apartment for months if it wasn’t for my one friend in Pune who drags me out to things. So we went to the flower show at Empress Gardens last month and I admit, it was fun! A low key, unpretentious public garden exhibition that drew all classes of people together with a ₹50 entry fee. We disappeared into our clouds of cotton candy, ate a large plate of deep fried pakodas and luxuriated in fresh sugarcane and ginger juice; we saw the best-in-show roses lined up neatly in vases alongside rows of bonsai and aromatic plants. This was everything I could imagine for my own (future?) garden exhibition that prompted my interrogation of what “luxury communism” might look like in practice. It is exasperating that the cultural and intellectual material of South Asia is broadly enjoyed through blockbuster exhibitions in Zurich, London or… Cleveland!
Politic of Joy
As an inhabitant of the floral margins on the edge of art history, I want my idea-mountains to materialise far from “nice” places. I want this in the context of where well manured flowers bloom, as garden exhibitions genuinely meant for the public, with elaborate waste-free botanical and smell installations that can be disassembled, taken home, and rebuilt every few days. I also want pavilions of potted roses, banana trees that people can take naps under, kewra and vetiver grass, and the pleasurable tastes of kokum sherbet, rose-flavoured cotton candy and mango kulfi for days!
It’s the elitism, stupid!
While my methodology is now utilised as a teaching resource at numerous ivy league universities for undergraduate and PhD students, I think there has been a fundamental misunderstanding about whom my criticism-as-gardening actually serves. Bagh-e Hind was never intended for academics. This digital open source safe-space replete with poetry, plants, paintings, smell, tastes and sound, that I built with practically no resources, is meant for those of us with neither credentials nor access to art history, museums, libraries or gardens. I invented this equalising conceptual tactic with which academic knowledge could be distilled into perfume and flavour so we could finally sense, smell and eat the emotional truths of our past without having to prove our worth to anyone.