The aesthetic and political potential of body scents

With her current work series entitled The Aesthetic and Political Potential of Human Body scents, Mannigel explores people’s perceptual olfactory judgment of others’ body scents. Through olfactory performative experiments and discussions, this series sets out to investigate the social stigmatization of body scents and its relation to Othering. She thus examines the following three questions: (1) What culturally sensitive methods and designs can we use to foster awareness about the olfactory judgment of others’ body scents? (2) How can her findings on the felt experience of others’ body scents contribute to framing the aesthetic potential of body scents and serve to highlight the sense of smell in aesthetics? (3) How can we critically address issues of objectivity and reductionism in traditional scientific knowledge production through the idea of “situated knowledge” and what Donna Haraway (1988) terms “a feminist version of objectivity”?

The work series The Aesthetic and Political Potential of Human Body scents comprises the following projects:

The social perception of women’s body scent in India (working title, in development)

I smell a rat (2019, Ada X, Montreal, CA & Goethe Institute Max Mueller Bhavan, Bangalore, IN)

Smell Feel Match (2019, Kunsthalle Rostock, DE & VIVA! Art Action, Montreal, CA)

Eat Me (2018, Wageningen University, NL)

Love Sweat Love (2016, Long Night of Museums Amsterdam, Mediamatic, NL)


Mannigel’s terminology

The Aesthetic Potential of Body Scents entails people’s perceptual olfactory judgment of others’ body scents which Mannigel explores through olfactory performative experiments. She uses her findings on the felt experience of others’ body scents to contribute to framing the aesthetic potential of body scents and to highlight the sense of smell in aesthetics. By aesthetic, Mannigel refers to a socially-constructed cognitive process of assessing sensory experiences. In this sense, she draws from anthropologist Russel Sharman’s take on aesthetic perception as an open and cross-cultural approach that looks at personal associations that we attribute to any sensory experience and that we re-enact.

Body Scents are the interplay of various smells that constitute a person’s olfactory identity. Mannigel continues to develop the meaning of the term “body scents” by critically drawing from the fields of psychology, neuroscience, and social psychology. She currently understands body scents to be shaped by diverse aspects relating to cultural practices, biology, and the atmosphere. Regarding cultural practices, she refers to the social interactions of humans and nonhumans, which include leisure and work activities we engage in, the food we eat, the fragrant products we apply or come in contact with through our social contacts, as well as the built environment and landscape that we inhabit or trespass. The biological aspects encompass genes, the microbiome, as well as our health condition. By atmosphere, Mannigel means weather-related conditions.

Othering is a form of social exclusion based on the premise that a person or group is perceived as “different”. Therefore, individuals who have been othered are not considered as a part of one’s own social group.

The Political Potential of Body Scents signifies that the perception of body scents is political because it shapes and gets shaped by social behavior and structures. Scents can nurture feelings of togetherness and belonging, as well as disunite and marginalize people (Reinarz 2014). Yet as philosopher Alva Noë argues, “[p]erception is not something that happens to us, or in us [but] is something we do” (Noë 2004, 1). Mannigel’s work develops methods that implement this perceptual agency.



Haraway, D 1988, ‘Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective’, Feminist Studies, vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 575-599.

Noë, A 2004, Action in perception, MIT Press, Cambridge (MA) & London (UK).

Reinarz, J 2014, Past Scents: Historical Perspectives on Smell, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Chicago & Springfield.

Sharman, R 1997, ‘The Anthropology of Aesthetics: A cross-cultural approach’, JASO, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 177-192.