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For scenographer Rajeev Sethi, an airport is like a virtual metropolis: a city of the 21st century that appears and disappears. And this idea is conveyed in his installation Reappearances—Below the Tarmac, where mythical aeroplanes and whimsical flying machines, shaped like birds and clouds carrying kings, queens and commoners, fly across a terracotta sky.

This is one of the 173 installations that form the Art Program curated by Sethi. These will be mounted on a 1.2km-long wall at the upcoming Terminal 2 of Mumbai International airport in September.

“Art should not be the privilege of just the rich or of museums. It should be displayed in large public places," says Sethi, 63. “And what’s better than an airport, which has round-the-clock security and a temperature-controlled environment, to do this."

Some 26 artists were commissioned by Sethi for Reappearances. The aircraft were made by the potters of Molela, a village near Udaipur in Rajasthan known for its votive terracotta plaques of gods and goddesses.

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Exhibition area. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Contemporary studio photographs of young men and women wearing traditional Rajasthani dresses, retouched by the miniature painters of Indore in Madhya Pradesh, also feature in the work. “The idea is to show that despite being modern, people are still attached to their roots, a trend which defines modern India," says artist Satish Narayaniya, 32, from Indore.

For Sethi, the need is to break away from mediocrity and give a “glimpse" of India to the outside world. “The idea is to not appear like Shanghai or Singapore. A person would immediately know that he or she is in India the moment they see this art," he says.

This is evident in his next installation, Touché, inspired by traditional Rajasthani attire.

Then there is Udan Khatola, a 6.5ft papier-mâché sculpture conceptualized by Sethi, made by artist Satbir Kajania and his craftsmen, and painted by artist Madhvi Parekh. “It is an amalgamation of Indian mythology and machines. Its structure and colours—blue, black and silver—give it a bright and royal look, making it look like a royal carrier and yet a fantastical flying plane," says Parekh.

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Exhibition area. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

“There are six themes that I’ve been given for this project. These installations come under the theme of ‘seamless India’ and constitute the western gateway of Molela. The northern gateway displays art from Kashmir; the eastern from Kolkata, and the southern gateway represents a very whimsical gopuram with gods and goddesses flying off," he adds.

A large-scale project like this calls for documentation. Artisans from each part of the country were given a mobile phone to document their processes. These videos will be installed right next to the pieces. Sethi believes that in this way, not only will visitors look at the art, but also know the people behind it.

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