Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Remembering Nubia Through Scent at Narrating Nubia (Thru Oct 27th)

"Remembering Nubia Through Scent" supports the work of
Dr. Yasmin Moll in the 
Narrating Nubia exhibition at the
Duderstadt Gallery at the University of Michigan. 

Scent references in literature connect us to emotions and memories embodied in ourselves and fellow human beings. We extract smells from text without realizing it, locating internal experiences in the brain and sense making the rest as we immerse ourselves in story. Familiar aromatic signifiers create a bond between reader and story throughout the act of reading, allowing for a more immersive experience. 

Perfumers tell stories in the air with volatile molecules arranged by rate of evaporation. A typical formula is constructed with top, middle and base notes in order of ascent. Base notes-the least volatile ingredients–sustain the longevity of a fragrance. Their function supports the narrative arc of a fragrance, leaving the wearer and the receiver open to the mystery of what transpires next.

Fragrances exhibited for "Remembering Nubia Through Scent" are inspired by aromatic passages in Nights of Musk: Stories from Old Nubia by Haggag Hassan Oddoul. Each of the three scents created by Michelle Krell Kydd complement a specific excerpt of the text, and are mainly composed of base notes. 

Scent № 1: 
Long, long ago, south of the rapids, the nights exuded incense and oozed musk. They were watered by the celestial majesty of the Nile and nourished by the strip of life that lined its banks. Their sky was pure and their air invigorating. There was born generation after generation, dark, dark. We would say: “We are dark, dark, for our sun shines upon our faces.”
Key Notes: Bakhoor (vintage), Jasmine, Musk, Orris Butter, Rose, Saffron, Sudanese Frankincense (Boswellia papyrifera), Suede. 

Scent № 2: 
They had rubbed you all day with dulka oil from Halfa, with extracts of fragrant oils and herbs. Its sweet smell penetrated your pores and radiated from your body, as if dulka oil was in you, not on you. 
Key Notes: Dulka oil is made from a variety of aroma materials including smoked red acacia wood (Acacia seyal), operculum (flap that closes the mouth of the outer shell of a marine mollusk) and French perfumes mixed with oils/attars. The ingredients in dulka oil vary as it’s an artisanal creation bound to culture and tradition. This Egyptian dulka oil smells floral, woody, musky, and smokey with a hint of amber. It has a gentle uplifting quality associated with the use of citrusy aldehydes in French perfume formulas. 

Scent № 3 
All around our Nile is a translucent halo, and the tips of the waves are gentle like the steps of a tender young child. Its perfumed breeze diffuses throughout the universe, and I take in great drafts through my nose, my eyes, my pores…The long narrow strip of green breathes sweet-scented sighs and clusters of dates hang unseen in the twilight exuding a divine, intoxicating aroma. The branches are tipsy and sway softly in the roofs of the palm trees, where the primeval fragrances are blended and lovingly scattered to the four winds.  
Key Notes: Galbanum, Gamma Octalactone, Ivy, Musk, Sandalwood, Tulip Poplar Leaf. 

Photograph by Dr. Yasmin Moll

Working with an unlangued sense like smell doesn’t require proof of vision. It requires detachment from likes and dislikes, an evaluative mindset, and respect for the fact that memory and emotion precede language because humans are neurologically wired this way. Smell is memory’s sense and we cannot afford to forget this. 

The Duderstadt gallery is open from 12:00pm to 6:00pm on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Narrating Nubia runs thru October 27th. The Duderstadt Center is located at 2281 Bonisteel Boulevard Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109. 

Excerpts from Nights of Musk: Stories from Old Nubia, by Haggag Hasan Oddoul are interpreted as bespoke scents in a gallery setting. Fragrances are housed in passive scent devices arranged on a raised table in a multisensory setting. Each device can be smelled by one person at a time. Attendees are encouraged to linger as long as they wish, moving from one scent experience to the next.  

Dr. Yasmin Moll, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan, obtained an exquisite Nubian Dulka oil while conducting ethnographic research in Egypt. She directed Hanina, a short film that can be viewed at the Narrating Nubia exhibit. 

Rêve d’Or by L.T. Piver is an inexpensive French fragrance used in homemade perfumes, bakhoor (incense), body oils and scrubs made by women of Nubian heritage. It’s formulated at eau de cologne strength (2-4% fragrance concentrate to alcohol) and acts as a binding agent across fragrance formulas. 

The boosting effect of Rêve d’Or can be sensed in Scent №2. It supports the unique smoked acacia wood note in the artisan dulka oil formula. Key fragrance notes in Rêve d’Or are molecules found in: orange blossom, tea rose, rose geranium, heliotrope, vetiver, clove and sandalwood. It smells great by itself and when used as a fragrance layering agent. A 14.25 oz bottle of Rêve d’Or retails for less than $30.00. 

Michelle Krell Kydd’s next project at the University of Michigan is focused on AI, machine learning, and sensory evaluation. It’s funded by a New Initiatives/New Instruction (NiNi) grant from the University of Michigan. Kydd is collaborating with Dr. Ambuj Tewari on the NiNi-funded project.