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In Transit: Art for liminal spaces
NIDHI GUPTA  13th Jul 2013

Rajeev Sethi in front of ‘Reappearances - Below the Tarmac’

n 2009, when Sanjay Reddy, vice-chairman of the GVK group of industries, commissioned the Mumbai T2 art project to The Asian Heritage Foundation, he told the chairman, Rajeev Sethi, that he wanted people to feel happy even if they missed their flights. The space must be "enchanting, engaging and essentially Indian," Reddy had emphasised — and it was this notion of the airport as more than just a point of transit that was to set the tone for what is arguably the biggest ever endeavour in the public art space in India.

For the next three years, the design company worked with artists — both known and 'anonymous', local and global — to realise the intangible, but very real, idea of an India "that is living in multiple centuries", as Sethi puts it. "We are a nation in flux — and airports are resonant of this sense of transition more than anything else. But at the same time, they are no longer spaces of sheer function. They now allow you to reach out to an incredible opportunity to reach out to the public," he elaborates.

These ideations, under the title 'Liminus T2', are being unfurled across the 1.2 km long walls at the Mumbai airport's new terminal, an ambitious project set to rival Delhi's T3, not only in facility and infrastructure, but in terms of art and architecture as well. With 170 installations, 7,000 artefacts that have been sourced from around the country and over 1200 artists in the fray, this mammoth project necessitated consistent teamwork, informs Sethi. Divided into sections like India Greets, Global, Elemental, Seamless and Eastern Gateway, the project aims to represent the hospitality the country is known for, as well as introduce India to travellers.

In the run-up to the terminal's grand opening in September this year, the foundation has been holding previews of installations across the country — after showcasing Nilima Sheikh's mural 'Conjoining Lands' in Srinagar and 'The Atelier of Ephemera' by patua artists in Kolkata, they put on display three installations in Delhi last week.

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

'Reappearances — Below the Tarmac' is a vast fibre and terracotta wall, done in earthy tones, from which mythical, historical and contemporary flying devices are poised at the moment of take off. The entire work is also a tribute to the several sudden settlements that crop up around massive construction sites. Black and white pictures of people, done up in royal finery, dot this landscape of constant change.

'Touche' is a huge turban made of terracotta and paper, but with its many jharokhas or windows, it imitates Jaipur's Hawa Mahal and interprets it as a visual metaphor for air, the second natural element, combined with 'sparsh' or a sense of 'touch'. 'Udan Khatola', as its name explains, is a contraption suited to the fantasies of the air-borne. Designed by Sethi himself, it has been painted over by Madhvi Parekh in hues of blue, black and white, that anchors this part-plane, part-bird machine in a rich cultural history.

Artists like Gigi Scaria, Nek Chand Saini, Desmond Rosario, Andrew Logan, Pankaj Saroj, B.V. Suresh, among others, have worked in unison with fine arts and craftsmen from Indore, Molela, Baroda, Udaipur, Jaipur and elsewhere on this project. "For the tangible realisation of this idea, we needed an extremely skilled pool of artists — but more importantly, we needed, and worked with, extraordinarily deft teamwork," stresses Sethi.

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