obscene (adj.) 

1590s, “offensive to the senses, or to taste and refinement,” from Middle French obscène (16c.), from Latin obscenus “offensive,” especially to modesty, originally “boding ill, inauspicious,” of unknown origin; perhaps from ob “onto” (see ob-) + caenum “filth.”

What is obscenity? For me, the word may have a different connotation than the one affixed to it by genteel society. Over the years, when my films and photographs have been returned to me after exhibitions in international festivals or galleries, Canadian customs officials have frequently seized the works at the border and sent me a notification in their stead with the word OBSCENITY writ large, an X luridly slashed in a box beside it. To me, it has become a badge of honour. For one man’s obscenity is another man’s art. Or romance. Or sensibility. Or scent.

Staring at OBSCENITY, eventually I came to realize that the the word SCENT is contained with in it. And thus came the first inspiration to develop a fragrance of the same name. A fragrance in flagrant disregard of the pejorative insinuation attributed to the word. In flagrant delicto: caught in the very act of committing a misdeed or offence. In fragrante delicto!

Exhibiting a collection of my photographs in Madrid several years ago at La Fresh Gallery – photographs that examined the delicate intersection between religious and sexual ecstasy – I first recuperated the word Obscenity as something sensual, erotic, and beyond the judgment of society or religion. Against storms of protest, the word for me transgressed its etymological origin as something offensive or filthy and became something transcendent. Something mysterious, martyred, and carnal. Carnal knowledge is power.

What does obscenity smell like? To explore this question, I had to consult an expert. Enter Kim Weisswange, perfumer extraordinaire. Meeting the formidable women in the flesh in Hamburg, I explained to her my history with obscenity, and the feelings the word invokes in me. The synthesis of the religious or the spiritual and the sexual is a potent one, and requires a potent fragrance. I left this special olfactory alchemy to the expert.

What does obscenity look like? For the bottle cap and design, I collaborated with my favourite jewellery designer, Jonathan Johnson, who had already made an Obscenity ring for me in conjunction with my photo exhibition. Mr. Johnson has an uncanny way of interpreting sexual and religious imagery to make them seem interchangeable, one and the same. Far from blasphemy, the “nunspolitation” cap, mapped from a 3-D scan of the curvaceous body of his fiance and muse Katja-Inga Baldowski, then perched on the hostia, the holy wafer placed lovingly on a tongue, is intended as a sincere tribute to the sensual throes of ecstasy that cause you to throw your head back and fix your gaze toward heaven, a gesture generally reserved for fervid prayer or orgasm. This is the essence of Obscenity.

To the rest of the crew who helped realize the Obscenity fragrance and its auxiliary products, I can only offer my sincere appreciation and thanks.

Bruce LaBruce


OBSCENITY, presented at La Fresh Gallery in Madrid, is a photographic exhibition featuring portraits of a variety of people from Spain – performers, personalities, proletarians - illustrating various fetishes, fantasies and obscenities in a religious context. The show explores the intersection of religious and sexual ecstasy. As an artist whose work has been routinely confiscated by customs since the 1980’s and stamped with the judgment OBSCENITY, LaBruce knows a thing or two about the territory of the taboo, the representation of the unrepresentable, the love that dare not speak its name. As recently as this summer, suddenly a shipment of 400 Polaroids that were displayed at Gallery Wrong Weather in Porto, Portugal for the exhibition “Polaroid Rage: Survey 2000 – 2010” were confiscated by Canadian customs and summarily deemed to be OBSCENITY and denied entry into the Canadian LaBruce’s own country. Last year, LaBruce’s movie L.A. Zombie was judged to be obscene and banned from the entire continent of Australia. Undaunted, LaBruce continues to produce work that ignores boundaries and defies censorship. Santo the Obscene, his new movie to be shot next year in Spain, will prove no exception. But the photographs in the OBSCENITY show will not necessarily be traditionally pornographic. Obscenity need not be sexually explicit to be obscene, nor does it need to be vulgar, harsh or extreme. OBSCENITY will offer a variety of images - some gentle, some romantic, some spiritual, some grotesque – that attempt to refine and redefine the nature of the fetish and the taboo, to sanctify this imagery and position it more closely to godliness. The lives of the saints are full of ecstatic acts of sublimated sexuality that are expressed in the most startlingly sexual and perverse ways. OBSCENITY presents a series of portraits that illustrate this most holy convergence of the sacred and the profane.