Collectors and aesthetes in India are about to lose some sparkle in their homes, as French mirror-sculptor, Yahel Chirinian, gets ready to leave India, her home for nearly three decades
The muddy approach road is blinded by heat and dust, leading to a fallow field. Beyond a small gate lies a large Goan home, patrolled by two sniffing Alsatians and a mewling cat, filled with sparkling creations, as the sun hits their myriad mirrors. Yahel Chirinian, a 47-year-old sculptor, interior designer and artisan, hastily walks through the long verandah of her Monsoon Heritage Studio, cigarette in hand, sculptures of fish hanging like disco balls from the ceiling, to a covered patio scattered with her work. Chirinian, originally a Parisian who claims to be the “biggest fan of magic realism,” specialises in mirror-enamelled sculptures.
All of this dazzling space, this reflection of her mind and observations, will soon be empty as Chirinian prepares to leave the country she has called home for nearly three decades. “I think it’s time the baby leaves the nest,” she says. “India gave me a lot and made me who I am. I always try to give homage to and reflect the beauty of the colours of India because I cannot do better than that; I can only reflect. So I will continue the reflection, from a little further away.”
“I will not say I am leaving India. I will say that I am expanding the story”
She weighs her words, then adds: “I will not say I am leaving India. I will say that I am expanding the story.” Still, this expansion of story involves moving her life’s work, and she is guarded about where it will be to. “I cannot
say where, because I am superstitious, but it will be like Goa, something which is open to the sea.”
Totems of Light
Chirinian’s life has been strongly tied to India, going back a couple of generations even. Her grandfather was a close friend of industrialist JRD Tata and spiritual leader Aga Khan, and her parents were known in Delhi’s diplomat circles. She first found escape in India as a rebellious adolescent, after being taken under the wings of a diplomat and his traditional family with four daughters in Delhi’s posh Jor Bagh locality. It was a far cry from the Parisian ways she was used to, but here she was able to soak in the vast knowledge of Indian culture the family afforded.
“I had a kind of deep meeting with India. But I didn’t come here to find myself. I have a very intellectual curiosity, and I found India such a mosaic of influences and a rich culture,” she says. It was here that Chirinian found moments that stuck with her forever — learning about the Partition from Lahori Hindus and discovering the magic of the ghats in Varanasi, where she completed her Masters in Sanskrit. It is from these stories of mythology, of magic, of wonder that her creations were born. She initially worked with glass, but moving to India charted a new, perhaps more successful, course than what might have been.
“I like the transparency of glass and I found that when you create pixels of glass, it becomes almost transparent. So when you are in front of my pieces, you see anything but yourself. It’s not a selfish mirror. I also like the idea that you feel like putting out your hand and entering another world. I found this idea in glass, and had my kind of glass been more easily available here at the time, I would have continued with the medium,” she says. This was not to be, but Chirinian’s mirror-work sculptures have perhaps travelled more than she has — and she has lived and worked in Paris, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi, besides stints in other parts of the world. Her creations can be found in the homes of politicians, actors, collectors. One of the world’s most prized private art collections, owned by the Taittinger family, contain some of her work, and one would no doubt find her pieces in the home of designer duo Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, who have long been patrons.
An installation at a private pool
An owl designed for a private residence
It seems Chirinian’s unfailing recognition of the sense of wonder fuels her creative process. “If you open art books or design books today, it’s always depressive. I like the idea of mystery, wonder, discovery and magic in my art. The world lacks poetry and light. If, through my work, I can provide poetry to the people who own my work, I am super happy,” she says, in between sips of bitter French coffee. Her latest pieces are inspired by the planet, touching on its destruction by humanity.
In between her workaholic days, she is discussing interiors for a fashion designer in Antwerp and a music producer in Malibu, and flying off to Europe to present environment inspired work at prominent spots across the continent. What then is she looking forward to? “Professionally? I want to slow down to achieve more. Personally, to have a lovely house with my dogs where I have rooms for my friends, where I can do what I want and be happy.” For someone who’s making a big move, it seems like Chirinian is already exactly where she wants to be.