This Artist Creates Art Meant For Smelling

by Haley Maiden


Anicka Yi is a conceptual artist who works with unusual mediums such as scents, bacteria, and insects. Her pieces draw upon scientific concepts while asking questions about race and gender and how they shape our physical perceptions.

Her current exhibit at the Guggenheim, Life Is Cheap, incorporates a hand-crafted fragrance called “Immigrant Caucus.” It is made up of scents from Asian American women and carpenter ants! Adding a new dimension to this already jarring experience is meant to further immerse viewers in the exhibit. You are exposed to the scent as you enter the exhibit, and the idea is that it works similarly to a drug — it distorts perception and allows for an altered experience. 


Yi’s work emphasizes the importance of smell and its link to memory. According to the Guggenheim website, she believes that smell is “the sense most closely associated with women,” while men tend to be associated more with sight. This divide can be seen in the art world, especially when discussing the term “male gaze.” This concept can be described as the “way in which the visual arts and literature depict the world and women from a masculine point of view, presenting women as objects of male pleasure.” It is not a secret that both the art and film worlds are male dominated and influences of the male gaze can be seen in the most popular pieces.


Yi’s approach to creating her own space that has not yet been taken over by male artists through the use of new mediums is genius. Her emphasis on women, especially immigrant working women, is important. Her art explores familiar concepts like gender and class, but through completely new and enveloping means. Yi is an artist, pioneer, and all-around badass lady! Be sure to lose yourself in her exhibits at the Guggenheim and the Whitney. 

Photos: Anicka Yi’s Instagram, Guggenhiem 

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