At the new Chennai airport’s domestic terminal, a horse sculpture in the departure section vies for attention. While the motif is old — something we have seen along with majestic sword wielding Ayyanars while leaving or entering a typical Tamil Nadu village — the form and the medium are new. This sculpture is a part of the 34 pieces of art (32 murals and 2 sculptures) that dot the new Chennai airport across its domestic and international gates. “Every gate has two murals and there are four arrival and four departure gates at the domestic and international terminals,” says Ravi Dhanda, partner, The Gallery Sunny Sistems, the art gallery that has executed all the installations at the airport.
Going through a rigorous selection process and competing with other galleries, Sunny Sistems presented a proposal to a high-level team, constituted by the Airport Authorities of India at Delhi. “We were one of the seven companies shortlisted as a vendor for the project and at the end of the ‘competition’ were awarded the contract for the artwork at the Chennai International and Domestic Airport based on the theme ‘Tamil Nadu — warm climes and warmer people,’” says Ravi. The works reflect Tamil Nadu’s rich folk culture and range in size from 49 feet x 8 feet to 9 feet x 4 feet. “These are arguably among the largest to occupy a public space in this city and the fact that the government has taken this step reflects positively on its attitude towards art,” adds Ravi.
The team involved
A team of artists, including Manisha Raju, Durshettiwar Raju, Shivram, Suresh and Isaac worked with the Dhandas to come up with a ‘sensible’ proposal. “We presented sketches and models to the authorities to help them visualise the end products,” says Neelam Dhanda who is also a partner of the gallery. Manisha Raju explains, “We spent a lot of time on the ideation process. As artists, we all had to set aside our personal choices and work on it as a ‘theme’. We also had to avoid themes that have already been executed like meditation and peace in other airports. Chennai’s culture seemed like the most logical choice for all the installations, because people are so connected to culture here and have most wonderfully balanced it with the demands of the modern world.” Adds, artist Shivram, “I have travelled across Tamil Nadu, and was able to help the team with the right kind of sketches that represent our culture. I have spent my career capturing our heritage through art and I think this exercise at the Chennai Airport too, achieves the same thing. They could have easily ‘decorated’ the space with meaningless nothings in the name of beautification. Instead, there are now art installations that offer people a clear portrait of our heritage.” “Art in a public space is perceived very differently than art in a gallery. Here, the public feels a sense of ownership and we had to visualise what people would like to see,” says Ravi adding, “Tamil Nadu has a rich heritage in dance, art and music. The Tamil people are very rooted in their culture and take pride in their architecture and temples. We wanted the art work to reflect this while also creating fascination and intrigue for first-time tourists and bringing up fond memories in those who return to the State on visits. ”
While the arrival gates feature colourful visuals of folk forms, the other murals are all in the grey-silver-black colour scheme. “The murals with a grey colour scheme are mounted against a grey wall and it almost seems like the art work is emerging out of the wall,” says Ravi. The gallery formed teams of eight, each featuring four artists, working at various locations over a period of three months on these murals.
Besides the horse, the domestic terminal is also home to the sculpture of a boat reflecting the State’s coastline. “The horse sculpture features 200-odd pieces put together, each intricately hand-worked, and we have used a lot of contemporary ‘Madras’ art elements in our murals,” he says. For the wall murals, the basic sketching was done by an artist, and then artisans created a clay model of it and poured Plaster of Paris creating a ‘negative’ cast. Plastic and glass wool (which is fibre glass) was then poured into the cast to create the final piece. “We also engaged welding experts, who have so far only done gates and rods, to create art by just welding!” says Ravi. These images, depicting scenes from temples while the presiding deity is being taken out in a procession with dancers and musicians, are placed above the air-conditioning duct near the VIP areas. “These murals at the international gate have a national flavour,” he adds, before signing off.