Mumbai-born and Houston-based contemporary and marine conservation artist Janavi Mahimtura Folmsbee is the only South Asian and Indian female artist to be included in the Houston Airport System (HAS), for her art installations on marine life. The 35-year-old was selected from 347 artists to curate the largest art installation.
Titled Aquarius Art Tunnel, it is a 240-foot immersive art tunnel installation consisting of two distinctive fine art murals measuring 240 by 9 feet. The corridor is around 20 feet wide and has 700 yards of carpet that were specially made with sea anemone and abstract design elements. The ceiling has 15 different lenticular pieces of art, each with three distinctive pictures and lighting features. There are 116 individually created lighting fixtures, 58 on each side of the tunnel, which cast light onto the murals’ quartz crystal paint pigment.
“An acoustic component and an augmented reality experience via an Instagram filter are also included. This work of art is not just a mural. It is truly an experience for any visitor from all walks of life,” says Janavi.
For the project, Janavi has used an abstract and realistic approach to capture the environment of underwater vibrancy and turn the tunnel into a representation of underwater. “When I envisioned this space, I saw the potential that such a rare and monumental site offered. I wanted visitors to experience what it feels like to be underwater. I have addressed the concept of one ocean throughout my work,” she says.
It took a total of 40 days and 40 nights on the site for Janavi to execute this project. Growing up in Mumbai in a sea-facing home, Janavi was fascinated by water and the sounds of waves. She would sit on the balcony overlooking the ocean or walk to Girgoan Chowpatty. Water brought her peace and the memories brought nostalgia and inspiration. But her love for marine life began when, for the first time, she landed in Lakshadweep and did scuba diving. She saw a world of pure beauty coming together in one breath.
“It was bright and vibrant with pinks, browns, purples and other fish colours. As an artist, I just thought it was dreamlike. I quickly learned that I needed to recreate that experience through my artwork, where you are one with your breath and invited into a world that is enticing, captivating and beautiful,” says Janavi.
Since then she has been diving with local marine scientists, biologists worldwide and learning more about different marine ecosystems to bring more reason and relevance to her work. “What I was creating needed to make sense to myself first, as an artist and a diver. Then, over time, what I was doing seemed to create an actual impact scientifically. I never realised the impact that work I was doing would have both artistically and physically on a reef,” she adds.
When asked about her choice of vibrant colours for the project she says her knowledge of colour theory and ability to identify pigments by chemical numbers has helped her create the perfect balance.
“The best colour is seen in nature, what happens underwater is unreal because the colours are mesmerising. In the project, they are scientifically accurate to reflect the species in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the US,” explains the artist.
Janavi showcases her artwork in multiple series including ethereal, intricate shapes which come alive as characters through her art. She has evolved her signature character series in several different renditions.
“I have learned to visually push the boundaries of my art-making practice. I have also been conceptually growing my work and have several new series that I am currently creating but not ready to share. The work is more scientific and pushes the boundaries of my thoughts on certain crucial ideas that are specific to my experiences of the world,” shares the artist.
Currently, Janavi is working on several national and global projects along with a new series of works for her upcoming exhibition.