Designing for immersive and auditory experiences in the domain of performance arts
Smells of racism
Conceptualised and choreographed by Sandra Chatterjee, Smells of Racism is an experiential theatre performance.
Racism has long had an olfactory side. Immanuel Kant, for example, claimed a direct connection between body odor and skin color. Even today, people report complaints due to "unpleasant" and "too intense" smells. As much as smells are relevant in the context of racism, there are ritual and spiritual meanings and uses of fragrances in a wide variety of cultural practices. The installation performance SMELLS OF RACISM starts at the point of racist devaluation on the one hand and the (also culturally) healing power of smells on the other.
The audience were invited to move freely through the installation and to actively shape the performance through personal conversations with the performers, taking notes or physical interaction. The five stations served mainly as point to depict an episode of extreme racism from the context of literature, history and our social milieu.
My role in this project was to create the overall branding of this performance and also design 5 illustrations that depicted each episode.
CHINESE MIGRANT EXPERIENCE IN SAN FRANSISCO ( 19th century )
Depicting the chinese migrant experience in san fransisco in the 19th century. The immigrants were subjected to taunts and linked to “the foul-smelling sub-culture of opium smoking,”89 and inhabiting “low, black, foul-smelling, cave-like hole[s] underneath the sidewalks[s]” of the urban districts where they congregated.
My depiction here was an abstract idea of a chinese fish market in the night and the varying smell it iminates.
My thought behind the interpretation was to go a bit anti-thesis of what Kipling described the city as. As a native of the place , I tried to bring the essence of a whole city through a fictionalised byl-ane of North Calcutta.
A " golly" ( an ally as we call it ) encapsulates many facets of Calcutta from it's antique buildings yet intertwined with colours from the flower bazaar, meat & sweet shops and the general people.
The rough brush strokes mixed with streaks of colour is for this intent.
GERMAN COFFEE HOUSE
The coffee houses of germany were often a hotbed of intellectual conversations in the 1800s. And as the aroma of coffee beans wafted through the space amongst the big ideas discussed, little was the upper class was aware of that the beverage that they were consuming was parallely transported and processed through a long history of colonisation, subjugation and slave trade.
Body odour has a significant connotation when it comes to smell. I attempted two directions for this chapter, the first one being a packed metro compartment where smells and cultures blend together in this neon glow. And the second one which was a bit more abstract, the smells formulating as a symbol of oppression. The nose almost symbolising the monolithic ships that brought in african labour to the europe . We finally selected the first one, as we wanted to depict the everyday aspects of smell.
With the denigration of smell, cleansing through freshening perfume meant to minimise and remove the odour of the body became an even greater mark of modernity that began
to set Western groups apart from the others of the world who frequently defined imaginatively
perfumed bodies as positive markers of subjective identity.“
Hygiene in itself was an instrument of propagating racist values and sentiments of the " Other " among the western elites.