Janavi Mahimtura Folmsbee is a marine conservation artist whose work focusses on concept of one ocean and how we are all connected through our waterways. Drawing inspiration from her dives and cultural heritage, she also aims to create awareness and protect the oceans and their inhabitants, and to promote sustainable practices that will help to preserve the environment for future generations. Travel + Leisure India & South Asia caught up with her recently to dig deeper into her craft.
Excerpts from the interview with Janavi Mahimtura Folmsbee:
T+L India: Can you tell us a little about your background with art?
Janavi Mahimtura Folmsbee: My work is maximalist, bright, and vivacious, which directly draws inspiration from my upbringing in Mumbai. Looking out at the Arabian Sea from my terrace at my home in Breach Candy prompted me to start diving in 2009. My first dive was in Lakshadweep, India, and it changed my life. I knew at that moment I needed to make art about the beauty of the oceans and the sea — something that everyone does not have the opportunity to see or experience.
My focus is marine life. My art installations transform a space and immerse one into this beauty through abstraction and realism. The spatial relationship between my work and the viewer creates a sense of closeness to the marine world. The work I create focuses on the concept of one ocean and how we are all connected through our waterways after all. ‘Water is for all of us, and we can save our oceans with simple acts of kindness everyday towards our environment,’—this statement is the very essence of all my work.
T+L India: You’re a marine conservation artist. How did the idea to choose marine conversation as your focus come about?
Janavi Mahimtura Folmsbee: As an avid diver, I actively sought out opportunities to learn about different marine ecosystems by diving with local and global marine scientists or biologists. Marine-inspired art is not a niche, but rather an art form we tend to overlook.
Marine art’s history and influences led me to become a marine conservation artist. It was a happy accident. I was approached by Dr. Addreiene Correa, the first marine biologist and scientist I worked with. It was such a delight to collaborate and publish my work with her at conservation organisations like the Galveston Bay Foundation (GBF), Correa Lab of Rice University, while focusing on marine conservation, science, and art.
T+L India: Your artwork The Aquarius Art Tunnel is a 240-feet tunnel installation at the Houston Bush intercontinental airport and is endorsed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Sanctuary in Galveston. Can you tell us a little more about the project?
Janavi Mahimtura Folmsbee: The Aquarius Art Tunnel at the Houston International Airport is an immersive art installation dedicated to marine conservation. It has been endorsed by UNESCO for its scientific and educational importance and outreach as a site. It is a 240-foot multidisciplinary installation that features lenticulars, lighting, paintings, original sound design, underwater photography, mural techniques, custom carpets, augmented reality, and more. It aims to transform the space into an underwater experience that accurately depicts the colourful complexity of marine ecosystems in the reefs and coasts of the north-western Gulf of Mexico. The title Aquarius was inspired by the water bearer constellation, which represents our global connection through water and our planet.
Out of 347 artists, I was selected to create one of the ten art commissions awarded by the Houston Airport System. The Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs commissioned this project on behalf of the Houston Airport System through the city’s Civic Art Program and the Houston Arts Alliance. The project is inspired by The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary that lies off the coast of Texas. It is one of 15 USA marine sanctuaries, and is protected by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
As a diver I was surprised to see the majestic corals at Flower Garden. I have captured this world with the use of my abstract and realism aesthetic to transform this tunnel into a space of what it feels like to be underwater at National Marine Sanctuary. The artwork at the ends of the tunnel depicts the mesophotic deeper zones of the reef and move to the shallower depths in the centre of the tunnel. This is scientifically accurate to the species depicted in these zones. The project was endorsed by the NOAA sanctuary offices from Galveston and has been a big hit with the marine science community for its educational outreach. Viewers can cross the threshold to text-based art featuring the word “water” written in multiple languages. Augmented reality filters for Instagram are also available, featuring abstract artwork created by artists inspired by gender-fluid fish species found in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. The Aquarius Art Tunnel is a site for scientific and educational importance towards ocean conservation through artistic outreach.
T+L India: What is your artistic process like?
Janavi Mahimtura Folmsbee: I am an interdisciplinary artist. My work is all about transforming a space, and transporting my viewer into that moment where they can be one with their breath, experience calming joy and get an insight through conceptualism and conversation. I create every work uniquely, utilising my expertise in materials and extensive background in techniques, as well as my knowledge in the chemistry of paint and pigment theory. I use Ocean optimism as a key to my messaging. My work includes traditional 18th-century oil painting practices, such as Grisaille and chiaroscuro.
T+L India: Your work has been showcased at various destinations—both India and abroad. How do you think your travels have shaped your art?
Janavi Mahimtura Folmsbee: I have completed a total of 234 dives in the past 14 years. Every dive location is unique, and I learn something new with each dive. I find that diving with local scientists and biologists is what truly educates me and helps me better understand what is happening in the water. This allows me to bring more information, research, and knowledge to my work. I also sketch in my book in between dives, which inspires my artwork in the studio. All of my dives and adventures inspire me. And this inspiration comes from everywhere, and it’s unable to speak for itself, so I give it a voice through my artwork.
T+L India: What are the upcoming projects that you are currently working on?
Janavi Mahimtura Folmsbee: I have a new series of work coming up for which I’m travelling to some sites that are not accessible to public. I can’t talk much about the about it yet but I’m excited.
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