India’s largest public art project lands at Mumbai airport

7000 works of art make Mumbai’s Terminal 2 the home of the largest art collection of any airport in the world. 

The state-of-the-art Terminal 2 at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport was inaugurated by India’s Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on 10 January 2014. The terminal houses the largest art collection at any airport in the world, including commissions from some of India’s blue-chip artists.

Parvathi Nayar, 'A Story of Flight' (on the ground prior to installation at Mumbai airport), 2013, hand drawn graphite on 31 shaped wooden structures, 240 x 134 x 18 inches. Image courtesy the artist.

Parvathi Nayar, ‘A Story of Flight’ (on the ground prior to installation at Mumbai airport), 2013, hand drawn graphite on 31 shaped wooden structures, 240 x 134 x 18 inches. Image courtesy the artist.

The terminal’s art museum, titled “Jaya He” (Glory to India), is curated, conceptualised and facilitated by Rajeev Sethi, one of South Asia’s leading scenographers and Chairman of the Asian Heritage Foundation. The museum consists of 7,000 artworks by 1,500 artists in the form of a three-kilometre long multi-storey “art wall”.

Apart from restored historical artefacts and works by local artisans and folk artists, several nationally renowned contemporary artists were also commissioned to create art and installations for the Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport museum.

According to the press release,

[the exhibit] captures the expanse, depth and beauty of Indian art, craft and cultural heritage while initiating the visitor into experiences that lie beyond and convey a distinctive narrative of India’s incredible diversity, living in multiple centuries simultaneously.

Art in the public sphere

The vision for such an art project was born out of a desire to bring art into the public space, Rajeev Sethi told The Hindu Business Line.

Everybody looks at art as an investment and less of something that belongs to the public space. Why should art be limited to whispering galleries and museums? Hopefully, others will now see a public area as a place where you can reach out to people or else, art cannot survive or be nurtured. The artist, too, will benefit from feedback by an audience he doesn’t know.

The public nature of this particular gallery is, however, dependent on possessing an international flight ticket, thus effectively restricting the majority of the country’s population from viewing it. Nonetheless, the airport, which will become functional in February 2014, is expected to cater to nearly 40 million travellers annually, making the potential audience of the gallery larger than any museum in the world.

Parvathi Nayar, 'A Story of Flight' (detail), 2013, hand drawn graphite on 31 shaped wooden structures, 240 x 134 x 18 inches. Image courtesy the artist.

Parvathi Nayar, ‘A Story of Flight’ (detail), 2013, hand drawn graphite on 31 shaped wooden structures, 240 x 134 x 18 inches. Image courtesy the artist.

Artists commissioned for the project include:

Visual artist Parvathi Nayar’s 20-foot “drawn sculpture”, visible from all four floors of the terminal, aims to show Mumbai and its airport as a receptacle into which energy and people are drawn, and from which they depart to other destinations.

A 6.5-foot papier mâché installation, Udan Khatola, conceptualised by Rajeev Sethi, created by artist Satbir Kajania and painted by Madhvi Parekh, is an “amalgamation of Indian mythology and machines” according to LiveMint. 

The process of the creation of each work of art has been documented by providing artisans with mobile phones, said the newspaper. These videos will reportedly be installed in the museum as well, providing an insight into how and by whom the works were created.

Paresh Maity, Celebration (detail), Indira Gandhi International Airport-Delhi along the International Arrivals Node.

Paresh Maity, ‘Celebration’ (detail) at Indira Gandhi International Airport New Delhi along the International Arrivals Node.

Art at Departures worldwide

For Sethi, an airport was an ideal location for such a project, not least owing to its security and regulated temperatures. He was quoted in The Sunday Guardian as saying,

We are a nation in flux – and airports are resonant of this sense of transition more than anything else.

However, the idea of transforming airports into something more than merely liminal, functional spaces is not new. Amsterdam airport displays works from the Rijksmuseum, France’s Toulouse airport has been exhibiting contemporary art since 2012, and Paris’ Charles de Gaulle launched a museum of works by illustrious French artists in 2013. Airports in South Korea, Mexico and even New Delhi – which contains works by M.F. Hussain, Paresh Maity, Seema Kohli and Satish Gupta – house similar projects. But Mumbai’s airport museum is the largest and most ambitious of them all.

Kriti Bajaj

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Related Topics: Indian art and artists, installations, public art, art in Mumbai, art spaces, art tourism, promoting art

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