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Flying colours

Art goes public as contemporary Indian paintings occupy pride of place at Mumbai’s international airport, reports Tasneem Nashrulla.

mumbai Updated: Dec 13, 2009 01:18 IST
Tasneem Nashrulla

They are two parallel art galleries that approximately 5,000 people visit every day. They showcase the works of 20 Indian artists, including the likes of Anjolie Ela Menon, Paresh Maity, Riyas Komu, Gurcharan Singh, Manu Parekh and Baiju Parthan. None of these accomplished artists aim to sell their paintings, though — these galleries are the new terminals 2B and 2C at Mumbai’s Chattrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA). In a successful move to take art to public spaces, the terminals exhibit the works of a range of contemporary Indian artists.

The idea of bringing exclusive art from the confines of plush galleries and private collections to the corridors of the country’s busiest airport came from Alfaz Miller, the architect commissioned by the GVK consortium in charge of redeveloping the CSIA. “I thought about the differentiating factor between our airport and other airports in the world,” says Miller (59). “It needed to be Indianised in a modern setting. What better way than to use indigenous contemporary artwork?” Having eminent artist Brinda Chudasama Miller as his wife helped him put together an impressive line-up of 20 artists. Among them are Sunil Padwal, Arzan Khambatta, Dhruvi Acharya, Subhash Awchat, Seema Kohli and Brinda herself.

Says Alfaz Miller, “Artists get very excited when it comes to the public realm, be it airports, traffic islands or museums. It positions their work for a larger audience, satisfying them tremendously.” That explains why many artists accepted only a fraction of their market price for their work.

Senior artists such as Menon were more than willing to hand over their work for free. “I’ve never got as many responses as I have for this work,” exclaims Menon (69). “Paintings bought by a few rich people are never to be seen again. Displaying art in public spaces, where everyone can appreciate it, is a fabulous concept.”

Sanjay Reddy, managing director, Mumbai International Airport Limited, says: “While these high quality art works infuse colour into an otherwise functional area, the idea was also to humanise the airport environment and enrich the experience of travelers at CSIA.” The idea has worked.

Rishi Ahluwalia (38), a frequent flyer ordinarily in a rush to catch a flight, recently stopped to admire a large Anjolie Ela Menon work he noticed in Terminal 2B. Now, every time he flies, Ahluwalia looks out for paintings. “It’s a refreshingly new-age touch to an Indian public space,” he says.

Brinda Chudasama Miller (49) who has two paintings displayed at the terminals, agrees. Brinda, who has consistently espoused the cause of art in public spaces and is a key figure in the annual Kala Ghoda festival, believes such projects create awareness about individual artists as well as the Indian art scene. “Displaying traditional craft and carvings in the airport would have been very hackneyed. I think the artwork provides the punch line to the modern décor of the airport,” she says.

Arzan Khambatta (43), another artist whose work is exhibited at the airport is relieved that “we finally have an airport we’re slightly proud of.” In fact, he would like art to be displayed not only in the interiors, but spill onto the airport’s façade and even out on the road. “Unless the public is exposed to modern Indian art, irrespective of whether people like it or not, we will never be sensitised to art the way Europe and America are,” he asserts.

Khambatta, like most of the other painters, used a large canvas to attract the fleeting attention of passengers in a hurry. Although he seldom uses bright colours, Khambatta decided on a vibrant red hue to stand out against the stark steel and glass of the airport, in a painting that is his “very graphic interpretation of flight.”

He smiles, “Fortunately my work is displayed in the Immigration department where people have to compulsorily stop and see it.”

(With inputs from Soubhik Mitra)