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Ambitious Art on Display at Mumbai’s New Airport Terminal

29 Jun, 2020 | 05:06 PM


MUMBAI — Airports are normally places people want to rush in and out of, but the developers of the new Terminal 2 at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai hope to change that. Among the many benefits for flyers coming through Terminal 2 is the opportunity to take in a vast amount of traditional and contemporary Indian art via an ambitious public arts program.

Over 7,000 art objects, including antiquities procured from 27 states within India, will eventually be on display, as will 100 commissioned contemporary art works. (Currently 2,000 objects are on view at the terminal, which begins international operations on Feb. 12.)

Under the aegis of the award-winning curator Rajeev Sethi, the art program, called “Jaya He” (meaning “Glory to Thee”), is comprised of two distinct sections: “Layered Narratives,” which encompasses the arrivals area and “Thresholds of India,” an art wall spread across the terminal’s four levels, spanning a total of 3.2 kilometers (two miles).

The art wall is split into six themes: “India Elemental,” “India Seamless,” “India Greets,” “India’s Silent Sentinels,” “India Moves” and “India Global.”

“As you enter, you realize what the hype is all about – a breathtaking contemporary feat of engineering and design, rooted in the Indian aesthetic,” said Alex Kuruvilla, managing director of Conde Nast India. “As three kilometers of the art wall is revealed, past, present and future collide in a riot of visual extravagance – truly capturing the India experience.”

At the inauguration on Friday, Sanjay Reddy, managing director of the joint venture that runs Mumbai’s international airport, said, “We brought the beauty of Indian traditional art into this terminal because frankly, today, how many of you or your children go to museums? How many have seen the rest of our country in its true measure?”

Mr. Reddy, who is also vice chairman of GVK Power & Infrastructure, which led the consortium that developed the terminal, noted that while the Louvre Museum in Paris receives 9 million visitors a year, the Jaya He museum at Terminal 2 will get 40 million visitors a year, referring to the passenger capacity of the new terminal.

“Just think of the impact it will have,” he said. “Frankly, it is not done for foreign nationals — it is done for Indians who I feel have learned to forget what the true beauty of India is.”

Mr. Sethi underscored that point during a tour of the terminal last week. “The concept of art in public space is a very serious issue because art cannot shrivel up and shrink into investment portfolios or disappear into godowns or galleries,” he said “It has to be in the public domain.”

Displayed on the “Thresholds of India” art wall are varied elements, from totems from Nagaland — some of which had to be saved from maggots according to Mr. Sethi — to a section made with 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of cow dung, made by more than 100 women from the various slums in the region surrounding the airport.

Also on the wall is a work made mostly of discarded beer bottle caps and a large quilt, also made by women in the slums on the periphery of the airport.

“Layered Narratives” focuses on Mumbai and life in urban India. Many works use interactive technologies. Among the site-specific installations are those commissioned by noted artists like Gulammohammed Sheikh, Vivan Sundaram, G.R. Iranna, Manu Parekh, Baiju Parthan, Jagannath Panda, Riyas Komu and Mithu Sen.

Mr. Sheikh, who lives in Baroda and came to Mumbai for the terminal’s inauguration, created a 72-foot mural, “Journey Across Time,” which uses six maps that rotate slowly as passengers step on a moving sidewalk. He said his longstanding interest in public art was one of the reasons he participated in the Terminal 2 art project.

Mr. Komu’s interactive sculpture, “Buddhist Pitch,” is as much a tribute to the cricketer Sachin Tendulkar as it is to Buddhism, featuring Buddhist prayer wheels and cricket balls.

Mithu Sen, who created “In Transit2,” large-scale mixed-media drawings using watercolor and ink as well as fabric collages, explained via email that she was intrigued by the idea of traveling and forging memories.

“Life is all about traveling,” she said. “Travel also reminds me of migration. Once we have left a place behind, it is leaving it forever. We cannot get the place back ever like before and so an empty feeling appears.”

The artist Rani Rekha, who created an interactive audio and video mixed-media work “Palaka” for the “India’s Silent Sentinels” theme of the art wall, said she focused on the thoughts and emotions people feel when traveling.

Evoking the celestial warriors found in traditional temple architecture, ashtadikpalakas, who guard the eight directions, the artist said, in an accompanying note: “When traveling, I often experience a brief sense of fear, especially when landing. I found many others, also, feel the same. I wanted my work to speak to people at this subconscious level, to provide a sense of reassurance and safety.”

In addition to signage, iPads will accompany the artworks so that viewers can see more detailed information by tapping on an app, which is in the process of being created. The plan is to make the app available for downloading on smartphones so that people can learn more about the works and artists and facilitate purchases of the art by interested collectors.

“Unless it reaches the doorstep of the artist, the art project would be just a project and not a program,” Mr. Sethi said.

Long a fierce advocate for public art, Mr. Sethi’s early mentors included furniture and product designers Ray and Charles Eames, as well as the Indian handicrafts revivalist Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay and the culture activist Pupul Jayakar. He has curated numerous shows including at the Smithsonian in Washington and the Cooper-Hewitt design museum in New York.

Persuaded to join the Jaya He project by Mr. Reddy, Mr. Sethi spent four years putting together the collection . “What clinched the deal for me was Sanjay came to me and said he wanted it to be a totally different kind of terminal,” Mr. Sethi said. “He didn’t want it to be Shanghai or Dubai, and then he added, ‘I don’t mind if people don’t mind missing their planes.’ ”

There has been some criticism that the art on display is a mish mash, with indigenous arts and crafts rubbing shoulders with cutting-edge contemporary art, but Mr. Sethi dismissed the distinction between lowbrow and highbrow art.

“We need to break down this hierarchy of what’s art and what’s craft,” Mr. Sethi said. “The whole idea is that fine art is working with craftspeople and craftspeople are expressing the fine artists in them. Out of those 7,000 items, if you ask me how much was fine art and how much was art, I would say all of it.”

Gayatri Rangachari Shah is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.



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