Merging different craft techniques of artists for his ongoing public project at the Mumbai Airport, Rajeev Sethi evokes the spirit of hospitality

Didn’t all those stories we grew up listening to make us fantasise about the strange vehicle Ravana abducted Sita in? Egged on by these tales and aided by films, theatre, TV, books etc., a distinct image of udan khatola got distilled in our heads. The original one, you bet, would have been a marvel in all respects and the imagined ones was also a delight but the 13 foot long and 6.5 foot high udan khatola, painted by Madhavi Parekh and sculpted by Rajeev Sethi, surpasses any imagination. Had Sita been flown to Lanka in this splendid machine, she would have probably not complained.

This September onwards, all those arriving and departing from the new terminal of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai will be able to view this artistic creation, which is part of a massive public art project led by Delhi-based Rajeev Sethi’s Rajeev Sethi Sceneographers Pvt. Limited. It’s interesting to note that though we severely lack in very many instances of public art, of late our airports have been striving to boast some.

Recently, Sethi unveiled ‘Udan Khatola’, ‘Touché’ and ‘Reappearances – Below the Tarmac’ in New Delhi before they were packed off to Mumbai where they would be mounted along with 177 other art works crafted in different parts of the country — Kashmir, Jaipur, Kolkata, Delhi. The project (funded by GVK) involving more than 1000 artists who have together created around 180 murals to be displayed in the upcoming space covering an area of over 4,39,000 square meters. Not the biggest but it does qualify as one of the biggest projects Sethi has undertaken in his career so far.

“There is no dearth of vision in this country. What’s more important is how you implement an idea. And in a country like ours where we have a luxury of committed skilful people, we can realise some of the most difficult visions. Machines would stay but I believe hands would always stay one step ahead,” says the scenographer, designer and Chairman of the Asian Heritage Foundation, adding that the art installation at Mumbai airport will evoke the spirit of hospitality. “It’s about what constitutes the sentinel of arrival and departure.”

Not just artists, but designers, architects, artisans and technicians have converged on this platform that seeks to interpret India on different levels. On board are varied craft traditions as well. From paper mache to khatamband, pinjarakari to terracotta sculptures, wood carving to Rajasthani miniatures, patachitra and madhubani, etc, the list is endless.

In ‘Reappearances — Below the Tarmac’, a huge terracotta skyscape that attempts to depict the airport as a virtual metropolis, potters of Molela, a village near Udaipur, have crafted mythical airplanes and whimsical flying machines. It is a significant departure from the customary votive terracotta plaques of gods and goddesses these artists make. While this art work evokes the cross-runway unique to the Mumbai airport, ‘Touche’ is inspired by the five elements and the five senses by which we perceive them. Hawa Mahal with all the beautiful jaali work melts into a pagdi or a turban.

And then, there is the magical ‘Udan Khatola’ crafted in papier mache and bamboo by a team of craftsmen led by papier mache artist Satbir Kajania. Enamoured of different techniques employed by tableau makers in Chandan Nagar during the puja and the interpretation of horse in different cultures across India, Sethi have incorporated these into the fold as well.