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Oriental Perfumes exhibition at the Institut du Monde Arabe

The Institute of the Arab World (IMA) invites you on an extraordinary journey through the captivating aromas of the Orient and their fascinating history. Through an exceptional route of more than 1000 square meters, where ancient and contemporary works coexist harmoniously, embellished with astonishing olfactory devices and fragrances specially created by the renowned perfumer Christopher Sheldrake, the IMA offers you an invitation to see - and to smell - how, from the High Atlas mountains to the shores of the Indian Ocean, perfumes have always been an essential dimension of Arab culture.


Date: Exhibition from September 26, 2023 to March 17, 2024

Desires: Arab World, Manuscripts, History, Traditions, immersive experience, Journey of the senses.


Oriental Perfumes exhibition at the IMA
Oriental perfumes at the Institut du Monde Arabe

Manuscripts, miniatures, textiles, paintings, photographs, installations, videos... nearly 200 works, as well as the raw materials from which perfumes are sourced, tell the story of the importance of fragrances, ointments, oils, balms, waters or fumigations in cultural, social and intimate practices of the Arab world. Their dialogue shows how perfume irrigates traditions and still permeates daily life today. Oriental Perfumes are indeed the still vivid imprint of an ancient and deeply rooted culture.


The most precious of essences

From Arabia to India, from the Indonesian islands to the borders of Asia, the visitor begins his journey by discovering the origin of the rare and precious species that made the reputation of Arab merchants. From ancient times, Arabia, land of incense, ambergris and myrrh, played a major role in the perfume trade. Rose, saffron, jasmine grow from the Mediterranean basin to the Middle East. Other raw materials are harvested at countless perils in distant Asia. The origin of ambergris or musk remained obscure for a long time, allowing the Arabs to maintain a monopoly on their trade. Raw materials which still count today, along with oud wood, among the most prized essences in perfumery.


Arab World Institute exhibition
Arab World Institute

The scents of the city

The journey continues in the medina, discovering the multiple uses of perfume in public spaces. Here we are in the souk of perfumers, holders of highly respected know-how. Wasn't the ancient process of distillation perfected by Muslim scholars from the 9th century? The perfumers' quarter is located in the heart of the souk, as close as possible to the main mosque. A proximity that recalls the essential role of perfume during the purification rituals prescribed by Islam and which take place in the hammam, a high place of sociability.

The opportunity to explore the elements of continuity and rupture between pre-Islamic Antiquity and the Muslim world, and to go back to ancient Egypt, to the times when perfumes were used to communicate with the gods. In Islam, popular culture attributes magical virtues to incense fumigations...


At the heart of the intimacy of the Arab-Muslim home

Here is the visitor who has reached the end of his journey: the house. Perfuming your guests is an integral part of the welcoming ceremonial, essential in Arab culture, and sprinkles of floral water or incense burners are present in every home.

Then the most secret lair opens: the alcove. Concealed in jewelry perfume holders or openwork boxes placed in the room, perfumes arouse desire and accompany a set of seduction rituals. Saffron, musk and amber are regularly cited for their aphrodisiac virtues and punctuate Arabic poetry to sing to your loved one. This is how, with the sweet scent of a kiss, the exhibition ends.


Oriental perfumes IMA expo
Oriental perfumes

Beyond this unique sensory experience, theIMA offers a rich and varied program throughout the thematic exhibition “Perfumes of the Orient”. From captivating guided tours to captivating shows, from cinema that transports you to distant lands to workshops allowing you to discover the art of perfumery, from narrated readings that evoke the magic of oriental tales to inspiring literary and poetic events, without forgetting fascinating meetings and debates, the IMA offers you a deep dive into the culture of Arab perfumes. This exhibition promises to stimulate your senses, nourish your spirit and immerse you in the richness and diversity of the Orient, while exploring the unquenchable fascination with fragrance that has always characterized this region of the world.< /p>


Date: Exhibition from September 26, 2023 to March 17, 2024

Desires: Arab World, Manuscripts, History, Traditions, immersive experience, Journey of the senses.

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