Artists wield the brush to give airports in the country a vibrant makeover, thanks to Brinda Miller's creative initiative.

“People don't know who I am,” she says quietly, and to an extent she is right. Actually everyone in Mumbai at least knows Brinda Miller. As an artist who specialises in abstracts. But beyond that little else.

And yet, Brinda Miller, artist, is someone who has her fingers in a number of rather large creative pies.

For one, despite herself, Brinda is one of the pillars on which the now popular Kala Ghodha festival rests. Started 13 years ago as an idea, the festival today turns the small stretch of road called Rampart Row at Mumbai's Kala Ghoda, in the southern heart of the city, into a place that throngs with people, stalls selling everything from food to craft; installations, theatre and song performances and almost anything else you can think of.

Though she “entered the event by default”, attending meetings to help out her friend Sangita Jindal, who was one of the first promoters of the festival, Brinda today is omnipresent through the festival days. She handles the selection and setting up of the installations and other visual art exhibits by fellow artists, and is also present at the many off-site events that happen through the week, presiding over them, making small speeches or holding workshops of her own on art or art appreciation.

If no one really knows this, beyond the organisers of the Kala Ghoda festival, it is because Brinda, as she herself admits, is “very shy”.

“All through my early years, that was my label,” she says. “I was the only withdrawn person in a family of extremely outgoing people. In fact for me, life really began at 40!”

Life-changing

Brinda was always an artist at heart. After she left the JJ School of Art in Mumbai armed with a diploma in textile design, she decided to study drawing and painting in New York. “That was way back in 1989,” she says, “but that stint changed my life completely.”

“I wanted to go back, but I met my husband, and just stayed on in Mumbai,” she laughs. Marriage and two daughters followed, and Brinda soon established herself as an artist of some serious talent with a series of solo shows, but the dream lingers still, of living and painting in New York.

“Alfaz, my husband still tells me I should go. He said it the first time 22 years ago, and even now he won't hold me back. Now that the girls are grown up and I am done with children and all that, maybe I will consider it,” she says.

Not that her life has been static meanwhile.

“I get bored easily, I keep needing to reinvent myself,” she says, and that perhaps explains how in the process she has helped reinvent some of the things around us.

The Mumbai airport for one! “My husband and I decided to do something to make the airport look a bit better,” she says, explaining the genesis of the idea of hanging art on the airport walls. The fact that her husband, Alfaz, was the architect in charge of refurbishing the airport made it all the more do-able.

“We contacted the artists and asked them if they would create artistic work for the airport,” she says. The next step was to mark out the spaces. “Each artist knew exactly where his painting would hang, the light it would get and the angle of the wall,” she explains. The works were created and some of the artists were paid from the fixed budget earmarked for the project, while a few others chose to donate their creations.

“We chose artists whose work would appeal to everybody,” she adds, explaining the selection. “The airport is a public place and all kinds of people pass through. Some artists are easily liked, and GVK, the airport authorities had some choices of their own. Thus we got Paresh Maity, Anjolie Ela Menon, Jayashree Burman, among others. The only condition GVK laid down was they did not want abstracts,” she says, “and though I am a painter of abstracts myself, that had to be respected.”

Art plan

The idea has now caught wing. Work is being commissioned for the new wing of the Mumbai airport, and already sculpture, carvings and paintings are being created according to the plan for art that has been envisaged by Rajeev Sethi who has been assigned to conceptualise the place.

At another level, Mysore and Tanjore paintings, and wood carvings have been commissioned for the Bengaluru airport. “It's the beginning,” she says. “I think soon all our airports will have art on the walls, and be places that one does not mind waiting in, if a flight is delayed.”

Of her own work, Brinda is strangely modest. “I keep changing my work,” she says, “though it is mostly abstract; it has a universal appeal, but the fact is either you like it or don't.”

Her workspace seems quiet and peaceful, but Brinda says it hides the frenzy and restlessness she is capable of. “My studio is neat and organised, but I am restless and my work reflects my feeling that I am running out of time, churning within myself.”

Her restlessness also reflects in her ability to collect everything from masks to chairs to animals and toys. “I collect almost everything,” she says, “pop-up books, others' paintings, boxes, lights, easels... and my husband collects old cars. My girls, of course, hate them,” she laughs when she talks about the Morris Minor, the Austin, and the 1940 Chevrolet that stand around her turquoise and white studio-cum-entertaining space on Cadell Road. They want air conditioning and speed....”

But both girls are architects in the making, and hopefully, will build places which their mother can change into arty spaces.

Maybe then, Brinda cannot quite claim as she does now, that no one really knows who she is, or what she does.