Four years in the making, the 240-feet-long Aquarius Art Tunnel, connecting Terminals D and E at the George Bush International Airport in Houston, Texas, is the brainchild of Indian American contemporary artist Janavi Mahimtura Folmsbee. An audio-visual treat for travelers en-route to exotic destinations, the brightly colored murals in vivid reds, blues, greens, and yellows fill the walls from floor to ceiling, evoking a sense of hope and optimism towards nature, the oceans, and abundant underwater life.
The tunnel showcases species of fish, coral, sharks, dolphins, barracudas, lobsters, manta rays, and, even, oil rigs, among many other creatures that call the oceans their home. The floor of the tunnel is a coral carpet, inspired by the artist’s deep-sea dives at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary off the Texas coast, and the accompanying sounds are a combination of classical music and the artist’s own meditative, underwater breath, created by Andrew Karnavas.
“This tunnel is a simple act of kindness to the environment,” said Mahimtura Folmsbee at the official unveiling of the project. “We can all work together to invest in our environment, and here in our city, through small acts of kindness, let us protect our waterways, as they are interconnected to our planet through each and every one of us. Water is OURS – for ALL of us!”
Last week, The United Nations Decades of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (UNESCO) endorsed the Aquarius Art Tunnel as a site for its scientific and educational importance towards ocean conservation through artistic outreach as an immersive art installation; it has also been endorsed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Sanctuary in Galveston. The project was commissioned by the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, on behalf of the Houston Airport System, through the city’s Civic Art Program and the Houston Arts Alliance.
“The power of Janavi’s work will be experienced by passengers because they will feel uplifted and ready to battle their journey ahead, while taking a piece of our Texas coast with them…and a greater sense of responsibility of being custodians of the earth,” said Theresa Escobedo, Civic Art Program Manager for the City of Houston, and part of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs.
“Facilitating this type of passenger experience from an international artist like Janavi is both a personal and professional pleasure,” said Alton DuLaney, Curator of Public Art for the Houston Airports. “And the fact that the inspiration material for this work is quietly located right off the coast of Texas increases the identity and sense of place for the airport which we strive to deliver through our passenger engagement initiatives.
Consul General of India in Houston, The Honorable Aseem R. Mahajan, pointed out the commonalities in culture and values between India and the U.S. and how Texas is now home to the second largest Indian community in the country. “Janavi’s work is very vibrant, and as people walk through the tunnel, it will be a shining symbol of the India-U.S. partnership,” he said.
The tunnel also has a special significance for Mahimtura Folmsbee; it is where she, and countless others, take the flight home to India. “I hope to create a bridge between science and art,” she said. “I want to shine a light on an essential natural resource, marine life, that is in dire need of our help, now more than ever.”