Shalini Passi has immersed herself in the creative arts since her childhood. From being an artist, curator, and art collector, to now foraying into photography, the multi-hyphenate finds beauty wherever she goes. In an exclusive chat with Travel + Leisure India & South Asia, the artist talks about her biggest muse: travel. By Bayar Jain
Produced by Aindrila Mitra
Photographed by Arjun Mark
Assisted by Tridev Sudevan & Rohith
Styled by Pranay Jaitly & Shounak Amonkar (Who Wore What When)
Assisted By Ankur Pathak
Hair and Make-up by Anu Kaushik
Assisted by Lawan Tamang
Location Hotel Diggi Palace, Jaipur
Excerpts from the interview:
T+L India: You’re an artist, collector, curator, photographer, and philanthropist. Which role describes you best?
Shalini Passi: It is difficult to pick one particular role, as all of these form my personality. Lately, I have been enjoying photography.
T+L India: What inspired your first foray into art?
Shalini Passi: I was exposed to museums and galleries across various cultures in my childhood. This helped me cultivate my relationship with art. I have been painting with varied mediums from a young age and have also tried my hand at sculpture. Since my father was in the construction business, I had early exposure to architecture as well—I’ve seen a lot of his architectural drawings. He was an artist too, and that further helped my journey into the art world.
T+L India: You recently put up some Paris photographs on sale as NFTs. How did that come about?
Shalini Passi: Whenever I travel to a city, I carry my Nikon camera to shoot architectural elements that appeal to me. As I walk through these beautiful, culturally rich, and historically endowed buildings, I cannot help but capture them. And that’s what I did in Paris too. I later turned it into a series of NFTs.
T+L India: You photographed Delhi during lockdown. What was it like?
Shalini Passi: During the pandemic, I would wake up early in the morning and photograph Delhi. The roads were extremely empty! I’d wake up at 4am and keep shooting till 11am. It was the peak of summers, and sunshine would light up all the buildings. But it was surreal—almost eerie—to see all the streets empty.
T+L India: Tell us about an artwork that had a profound impact on you.
Shalini Passi: When I was growing up, Guernica (a 1937 oil painting on canvas by Pablo Picasso) left a profound impact on my life, just like it impacted many others. I found the work and its execution powerful and meaningful. A couple of years ago, I discovered Ophelia, a painting by British artist Sir John Everett Millais that is based on a character from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. I often revisit this work at Tate Modern, since I find it alluring, stirring, and mystical.
T+L India: What are your thoughts on digital art?
Shalini Passi: It is a great way for artists to express what they want to. Each artist has a different medium or mode of expression. In today’s day and age, the digital medium reaches a larger share of audiences. It certainly is relevant in the current times.
T+L India: Which artists have influenced your work?
Shalini Passi: It’s difficult to pen down one particular artist, as I look at various artists regularly. FN Souza and Ram Kumar have had a great influence on my paintings. I am naturally drawn to their impasto technique. I’ve started indulging more in photography [now].
T+L India: Tell us a bit about your venture, MASH.
Shalini Passi: MASH is a digital platform that explores the intersection of architecture, art, craft, design, and fashion in an accessible and engaging format. It supports emerging young artists and promotes experimental new practitioners through social-media platforms. Additionally, MASH brings regular updates on current exhibitions as well as significant art, design, and cultural events around the world.
T+L India: What made you start the Shalini Passi Art Foundation (SPAF)?
Shalini Passi: SPAF was ignited by my passion for art and my belief in giving back to society. Founded and established in 2018, the foundation offers an intellectual platform within the arts ecosystem by supporting, educating, and encouraging experimental new practices in the field of arts—including art, craft, design, architecture, and fashion.
T+L India: What role does travel play in your life and work?
Shalini Passi: Travel and art are therapeutic for me. Travelling to different places opens the doors for a fresh cultural perspective and helps me explore new art forms and artists. My travel enables me to foray deeper into the art and design world. It keeps me on my toes and encourages me to learn and acquire more. Being exposed to different economic, cultural, and historical backgrounds enriches my life.
T+L India: You were travelling during the pandemic—what was that experience like?
Shalini Passi: With international travel restrictions in place, I was inspired to explore my country. I visited Mahabalipuram, Puducherry, Auroville, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Bikaner, Gulmarg, Dharamshala, and Ladakh. I even visited religious places like Rameshwaram, Tirupati, and Vaishno Devi.
T+L India: Were there any hidden gems that you discovered during these travels?
Shalini Passi: Every visit to Rajasthan leaves me with an awe-inspiring discovery. Puducherry was a humbling experience; it is where I met the women of Cluny Embroidery Centre. Ladakh surprised me with its offerings!
T+L India: Which sites in Rajasthan have you discovered on your trips?
Shalini Passi: The Laxmi Niwas Palace and Karni Mata Temple in Bikaner; Jawai Leopard Safari Lodge; blue pottery studios near Jal Mahal, Jaipur; and the Brahma Temple in Pushkar—the only one of its kind in the country. I enjoyed visiting Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur. It was great to see the way they have preserved and presented artefacts. I was amused by Balsamand during my visit to Jodhpur. It is a beautiful, well- maintained spot with great properties.
T+L India: What have been your most memorable vacations?
Shalini Passi: Ladakh! From calming monasteries to rich culture, humble citizens, and spiritual art with multicultural influences, it truly is a haven. The landscape is mesmerising. You can witness everything from rocky, snowy mountains to deep blue rivers. Visiting Pangong Tso was surreal, and it holds a special place in my heart.
T+L India: Which destinations do you recommend for art?
Shalini Passi: When it comes to contemporary art, cities like Paris, New York, Berlin, and London have some of the best galleries and museums. I really admire French museums. I think they do a great job at installing and presenting works. I would also recommend visiting Venice during the Biennale. It is a great place to see amazing art and meet creative individuals.
T+L India: You are always stylish! Tell us your your favourite international and Indian designers/labels?
Shalini Passi: My current favourites are Alexander McQueen, Lanvin, and Zimmermann. And my all-time favourite Indian designers are Gaurav Gupta, Manish Malhotra, Rohit Bal, and Shantanu and Nikhil.
T+L India: How would you define your sense of style?
Shalini Passi: I don’t really follow or dress up to trends. I wear outfits that please me. Often I store an outfit and wear it years later by creating a new look—by either cutting it or pairing it differently. But comfort is of paramount importance to me. Even the most daring outfit can be made comfortable with some effort. Style, for me, is all about expressing myself through my wardrobe. I like to dress according to the atmosphere and vibe of the place.
FAVOURITE ARTWORKS AT MY RESIDENCE
Anita Dube’s Theatre of Sade (1998-99), Mrinalini Mukherjee’s Kusum (1996).
Lisson Gallery, David Zwirner, Galleria Continua, Gagosian, and White Cube.
FAVOURITE SHOPPING DESTINATIONS
Paris and London for international designers or brands; Delhi for ethnic Indian wear.
JAIPUR IN A SENTENCE
The Pink City paints a vivid palette for everyone with its rich cultural heritage, art, craft, and beautifully skilled artisans.
Related: Manushi Chhillar Tells Us Why She Likes To Be A Free Independent Traveller