Could a smell be a work of art? Artists have been considering the idea for close to 80 years. In 1938, French artist Marcel Duchamp tried an unusual display at the International Surrealist Exhibition. He placed an electric brazier behind a screen to roast coffee, filling the halls with what he termed, “the smell of Brazil”. Andy Warhol took it even further, leaving behind a Permanent Smell Collection of hundreds of scents when he died in 1987. Each one represented specific period and place in his life, trapping ephemeral memories into fragrance notes.
Indian artists have been experimenting with olfactory work too, drawing on the personal and incommunicable experiences of odours. Artist Indu Antony launched her project, Bengaluru Smellscapes, in February 2020 in an attempt to map the city by its scents. “Bangalore, like any other city or town, has unique smells,” she says. “From the aroma of Suma coffee on CMH road to that of freshly fried samosas in the bylanes of Shivajinagar to sneezing when you smell fresh textiles at Silver Plaza.”
The project involves conducting detailed interviews with people from various parts of the city, including shopkeepers from Chamarajpet, drivers of public transport vehicles, nurses at the Mallya Hospital. Antony has met 200 locals so far. The work, supported by the India Foundation for the Arts, will be published in the form of a book in January.