Anjali Deshmukh
Yamuna 1. Mixed media. Installation (site specific). 2012. In this piece, two kadahi (Indian deep frying pots) were installed in two shelves in a corner of the Engendered Gallery's bathroom. The top kadahi was filled with diesel. There was a hole drilled in the bottom of the pot and the shelf, with a cotton wick from which the diesel dripped into the bottom kadahi. In the bottom kadahi was a pool of musk ittar (natural perfume of the Islamic tradition) floating in water. Swimming in the bottom kadahi was an effigy of the well-known Bollywood actor Salman Khan, his portrait glued to the head of a blond barbie doll.

Artists have incorporated smell into the creation of aesthetic experience for decades. The sense of smell became a prominent part of social and cultural discussion in the 18th century when scientists began associating it with illness and bodily dysfunction. In fact, the term 'malaria' is derived from the phrase 'mala aria' or 'bad air.' The concept for this work crosses multiple dimensions related to the seen and unseen, or the Surface and what lies underneath. Perfume in and of itself is a kind of mask and tool for attraction that links to the idea of this exhibition, titled "Can You See Me?". On another level, the purpose of using ittar in the bathroom suggests another absurd level of masking and exposing. Blending the smell with a seedy, feminized pop star drowning in a frying pan filled with perfume oil suggests another kind of social masking, or the underbelly of social objects of adoration we consume or aspire to be, particularly given that ittar was originally used by royalty.

In Delhi, cut into two by a sacred, polluted river emanating its own miasma, smell takes on another kind of political function related to what lies below— the unresolved environmental problems of Delhi and the Yamuna— while also creating an ironic link between religious and Bollywood icons.