This episode of Knowledge and its Producers talks to Bharti Lalwani, who is a perfumer and art critic as well as the curator of the online exhibition Bagh-e Hind. Throughout the interview, Lalwani tells us about her journey to making perfume and what it is to work as an independent perfumer, not only demonstrating that practice and expertise are intertwined, but what it is to exist outside of institutional structures. Later in the show, we are joined by her collaborator on Bagh-e Hind, Nicolas Roth, to talk about digital exhibition curation and what it is to tell a multi-faceted history of scent.
Bharti Lalwani is an art critic and perfumer. She trained as an artist at Central St. Martin’s College of Art and Design in London and later as a critic with a special focus on Southeast Asia at The Sotheby’s Institute of Art in Singapore. Hailing from an enterprising family of migrants who saw their future outside feudal India, Bharti spent over twenty years of her childhood and professional life in Lagos, Nigeria, and has moved across several countries and career paths.In 2017, she became a pioneering independent perfumer in an otherwise male dominated, close-knit inter-generational industry of distillers, aroma chemical traders and attar-wallahs in South Asia. Upon further experimentation and field research, she found that her training as a critic equipped her with sharp insights and ability to produce original work within an old, stagnant and mainly Euro-centric field. She established Litrahb Perfumery in 2018 as an extension of her criticism and artistic practice. Doing what no museum or institution has or can, Bagh-e Hind, the exhibition, is conceptualised, designed, funded and produced independently by the art critic. She developed this multi disciplinary research project by inviting Dr. Nicolas Roth to collaborate between June 2021 – August 2022. The next phase of this project will be expanded over 2023-24 with a different guest collaborator. Bharti is also the commissioning editor of the Catalogue accompanying this exhibition-project, that aims to present groundbreaking approaches on the sensorial history of South Asia. Operating outside the bounds of academia, she once again finds herself in a pioneering position. Ultimately, Bagh-e Hind is a public access project that she builds for deeply personal reasons. The NMG+GSUS micro grant awarded her INR 25,000 (USD 300) in August 2022 to support her endeavour. Follow her practice via her Newsletters.
Nicolas Roth received a BA in Sanskrit and Indian Studies and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and a PhD in South Asian Studies from Harvard University. His dissertation “Marigolds and Munshīs: Horticultural Writing and Garden Culture in Mughal South Asia” focuses on the garden culture and horticultural writings of Mughal India from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. Nicolas collaborated on this project with Bharti from June 2021 to August 2022 during which she commissioned him to produce the research essay “Visual Nosegays: Plants and Scent in Early Modern South Asian Painting“. Together, Bharti and Nicolas curated the first and so far only physical iteration of “Bagh-e Hind” at the Institute of Art and Olfaction, Los Angeles (USA) between July – August 2022.
You can follow me @NAMansour26 and you can follow the Maydan @themaydan on twitter. The production team includes Micah Hughes who you can follow @MicahAHughes and Ahmet Tekelioglu and most importantly, audio editor who does our post-production, Nicholas Gunty. A big thank you to the Luce Foundation. Our music is by Blue Dot Sessions. Be sure to subscribe or follow The Maydan on social media for upcoming episodes and more in the Maydan’s selection of podcasts.