The social perception of women’s body scents in India (working title)

Collaboration with Dr. Shannon Olsson, National Center for Biological Sciences (IN)
In development, started during bangaloREsidency 2019, Bangalore (IN)

This project started during the bangaloREsidency Bangalore,  India in 2019, which was funded by the Goethe Institut.

Srinivas Rao from Dr. Shannon Olsson’s NICE lab is collecting the silicon pieces that I wore around my neck in order to collect my own scent. Photo: Santosh Rajus

I had initially planned to explore the social perception of people’s body scents by creating a new adaption of her project entitled Eat Me (2018). In the original work, I aimed to chemically reproduce the aromatic compounds of peoples’ body scents in order to use them to flavor snacks and drinks. Through conversations with multiple women in Bangalore, I learned that female body scents had a history and social implication of being more stigmatized than male ones in the Indian culture. This led to me shifting the project’s focus to explore the social perception of women’s body scents by examining these gender-based judgments. As a result, I held interviews with five women in Bangalore to learn about their experiences related to how other people perceived their body scents and how they perceived their own smell. These exchanges were audio recorded.

From these interviews, I identified a women’s neck as the most suitable and respectful body part to focus on for the scope of this project. This was due in part because it can be both partially exposed to the world, as well as covered up by clothes. Although the neck is considered an intimate space, the scents of this area do not seem to be as stigmatized as the other intimate areas of the body in India, such as the scent from a women’s underarm.

In preparation of test 2, I was wearing a DIY cotton string necklace and bracelet with medical silicon pieces for one week. Photo: Lauryn Mannigel

In 2020/21, I plan to follow up with the interviewees by asking them to collect the body scents from their necks. I will use these samples to chemically reproduce the aromatic compounds in a synthesized liquid formula. For the chemical reproduction process, I will collaborate with chemical ecologist Dr. Shannon Olsson from the National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bangalore.

The scent around my neck gets analyzed via this gas chromatography mass spectrometry machine at Dr. Shannon Olsson’s NICE lab. Left to right: Srinivas Rao, Lauryn Mannigel, Dr. Shannon Olsson. Photo: Santosh Rajus

For the final version of this art piece, I envision the following components—smelling, reflective, listening and learning. The smelling component aims to encompass the chemical reproduction of the body scent samples from five women in Bangalore, along with the development of a presentation format of these samples. The reflective component will entail the creation of a questionnaire that enquires into the smelling experience of the chemically reproduced body scent samples from the women. The listening component will comprise a composition of an audio narration of the five interviews with the Bangalorean women that donated their smells to the project. Lastly, the learning component will include research on the socially constructed perception of women’s body scents in India through analysis of academic and popular culture texts. From these four components, Mannigel will create a design to present her insights to the general public that will eventually be exhibited in Bangalore.

For more details on the project’s development check out my bangaloREsidency report.

 

Credits

A big thank you to the Goethe Institute Max Mueller Bhavan, Meena Vari and Yashas Shetti from the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Prof. Shannon Olsson and Srinivas Rao from the NICE Lab at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, 1 Shanthi Road, Prof. Sobin George from the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Blank Noise, the Sandbox Collective, The Courtyard, and all the women in Bangalore with whom I had discussions.