Shalini Passi is a strong believer that art ‘brings meaning to life’. The New Delhi - based art collector, patron and philanthropist has always been an avid supporter of contemporary Indian artists such as Biraaj Dodiva, Anita Dube, and Zarina Hashmi, to name a few. Founded in 2018, The Shalini Passi Art Foundation seeks to amplify the voices of emerging Indian artists in order to cultivate a better future for Indian art and its global presence. Labelled by Forbes as one of India’s top 10 women entrepreneurs, her latest online platform ‘MASH’ is at the forefront of promoting experimental new practitioners in architecture, art, design, craft, and fashion.
From her latest insights into supporting emerging artists, using fashion as a form of empowerment, as well as her boldest fashion choices to date, we discuss all the ways Shalini has been influenced by, and is influencing, the art world!
Q. Growing up, how were you influenced by art and style?
Shalini: I come from a family with a history in architecture and construction. The Vayu Bhavan, the DD office and the Palika Bazaar in New Delhi were built by my grandfather. I would often accompany him to the construction sites and he would show me blueprints by the famous architect Raj Rewal. Around the house, it was routine for us to discuss the works of noted architects and my grandfather would encourage us to look at architecture books. At one point I wanted to study architecture, but I wasn’t very skilled in mathematics. On the other hand, my father used to paint and he has been another influence on my life while I was growing up.
Q. Has a piece of art ever moved you to tears? Why were you so moved by it?
Shalini: The Pietà (1498-1499) by Michaelangelo has always moved me. It has such a profound effect on me because of the concept of Christ and his power, along with the emotive quality of the mother and the son. I love its representation of the frailty of life and the way the sculpture is resplendent in its structure.
Q. You have previously mentioned that ‘art brings meaning to life’ for you. How has art changed your view of the world?
Shalini: Art does bring meaning to life. The art movements around the world have largely been influenced by the socio-economic conditions of our world, as art is the reflection of the society. It is also a source of immense joy and an important insight into the mind of an artist. If we had no art to surround us, we would just go about our lives very mechanically.
Q. Could you name three emerging artists whose artwork you admire?
Shalini: Biraaj Dodiya, whose work is layered and poetic, is an emerging artist I admire. Then there is Asim Waqaf who has a background in architecture, and creates evocative installations that address our ecology. Finally, Himali Singh Soin who is a performance artist who also works with film.
Q. You have previously labelled your collection of art as ‘all-embracing’, how do you organise and balance different styles and designs when displaying pieces within your home?
Shalini: I collect design pieces from all over the world. These pieces are most attractive to me and what I am able to appreciate in my home. My mind is bent towards certain aesthetics and my collections, as I curate them myself, fall into place easily. I try to identify a relationship between the artwork and where it is displayed. I also like to create tension by taking a contemporary piece and juxtaposing it with an art piece dated from the seventeenth century.
Q. If you had to give up all of the items in your art collection, what is the one piece you would keep and why?
Shalini: If I had to give up my art collection, I would give up everything as I believe in all or nothing. But if I had to keep one artwork, it would be Anita Dube’s Theatre of Sade, since that piece is very dear to me.
Q. How would you like to see the Indian art world develop over the next few years?
Shalini: I want to see more Indian artists showcasing their work internationally. I want to see Indian art be on display in different places and museums all over the world. I would also like to see more museums dedicated to Indian art in cities all over India.
Q. Could you tell us more about the Shalini Passi Art Foundation’s mission to promote the emergence of a new aesthetic language for the arts?
Shalini: The Shalini Passi Art Foundation (SPAF) endeavours to create a new paradigm for artistic expression in India, by supporting, educating, and encouraging experimental new practices in the field of arts - including art, craft, design, architecture, fashion and jewellery - that take inspiration from India’s rich cultural traditions to create a contemporary aesthetic for India. The Foundation offers a much needed intellectual platform within the ecosystem of the arts, which accelerates the emergence of a new aesthetic language for the region.
Q. What needs to happen in India to better support emerging artists and help shape the future of the art world?
Shalini: One can undertake multiple initiatives in order to support emerging artists. SPAF and MASH undertook some of them this year in the form of online exhibitions (Living the New Normal), which by and large is a great medium for emerging artists to showcase their work. Moreover, we held online auctions to raise funds (Stand with Bengal) and used platforms, such as our podcast series, to talk about various emerging talents in the art world. Furthermore, I am also a proud patron of artists and creatives who are at the cusp of beginning their career in the industry, and I believe more people like me should offer patronage.
Q. You have been involved in educating underprivileged children in Delhi by providing opportunities for them to learn about the arts and crafts. Why do you think learning about art from a young age is so important?
Shalini: It is important for children to engage with art, especially children from the underprivileged sectors as it engages them in a fulfilling activity. This cause is especially close to my heart and I have worked towards it for many years.
Q. Who is your fashion icon?
Shalini: I have many style icons. At a very young age, I was most enamoured by Gayatri Devi, like most of us, as well as Audrey Hepburn. I am also influenced by Grace Kelly, Diane Von Fosterberg. My mother, grandmother, and aunts have also inspired my sense of style. My inspiration for style or how I drape a sari also comes from paintings that influence me.
Q. In what ways do you find fashion empowering?
Shalini: Fashion as a medium empowers women in myriad ways. For me, fashion is a state of mind. My outfit can reflect what I am feeling and at the same time it can also influence me and make me feel more confident. Fashion as an industry also empowers artisans and craftspeople who would have practised their craft in isolation if it had not been for this industry that gives them a platform to showcase their art.
Q. How has travelling influenced your fashion style?
Shalini: Well, it is true that travelling has influenced my fashion style. It doesn’t matter where I am; whether it is Madrid or Beijing, I collect textiles, vintage jewellery, and costume jewellery that are intrinsic to that city and incorporate these items in my wardrobe.
Q. What is the boldest fashion choice you have made to date?
Shalini: I don’t think I am very bold in my style choices. People may think that I am bold but I would disagree, as I would like to be bolder in my fashion choices. 'Till now the boldest thing I have done is shave off my hair and many people thought that it looked cool and edgy and I did enjoy that look for a while.
Q. What does your current COVID-19 daily routine look like?
Shalini: My COVID-19 routine consists of me waking up at dawn, and working for a couple of hours. Post lunch, I meditate and in the afternoon I work out. I work some more in the evenings, which is then followed by dinner. I have my online classes so I join those. I have also been taking a lot of day trips to religious places all over India.
Image Courtesy: Shalini Passi
My Art Shalini (MASH): https://www.mashindia.com/
Interview organised & conducted by Joori Byun
Joori is a graduate from the University of Oxford with a BA in English Language and Literature. Having grown up in the UK, but being ethnically South Korean, she loves exploring different styles, cultures and forms expression. A keen writer, she is eager to delve deeper into art & fashion related subjects.