All About The PAGo Festival Where Art Connected The Past With The Present!
My City Links brings you beautiful glimpses of the first of its kind festival in the state, the Public Arts in Gopalpur Fest that transformed the beach town into an artistic beauty while also paying a tribute to the rich culture and traditions of the region.
When a city becomes a canvas and history and heritage gets painted on its walls; when the colours beckon the glorious past and magnificent culture through their splash, when happiness comes in the form of creative installations and murals, you realise the magic of a Public Arts Festival. And, the recently held Public Arts in Gopalpur (PAGo) Festival was not only a befitting tribute to the rich culture and traditions of the region, it was a celebration of a new and creative ‘avatar’ of the sleepy beach town of Gopalpur.
Celebrating the lost heritage of the old port town through various art forms, the one-of-its-kind festival saw locals joining hands with the guest artists for the first time to deck up their city with a creative touch. With a unique concept of making the past meet the present through art, the PAGo festival organised by Berhampur Development Authority (BeDA) in association with departments of Tourism and Handlooms, Textiles & Handicrafts and curated by Bhubaneswar based Bakul Foundation saw visitors coming in large numbers to enjoy art at its best.
“The PAGo Fest was designed with an objective to make Gopalpur an Art Town cum Eco-Retreat Hub of Odisha. The name PAGo standing for Public Art in Gopalpur suggests that it is not limited to a single event but is an on-going project that has kick-started with this festival, which will be an annual affair,” said Prem Chandra Choudhury, Collector and DM of Ganjam.
Gopalpur has a beautiful and clean beach and is much less crowded than the Puri beach. Since it is also close to Bhubaneswar, it has huge potential to develop into the most preferred tourist destination in the state. The Government of Odisha has been planning to develop sustainable tourism by developing Gopalpur as an eco-tourism hub.
Because of its quiet beauty, it has been a popular destination for Christian missionaries. Gopalpur also has the colonial heritage of old buildings that were warehouses or bungalows of the British and the Dutch in the 19th and early 20th centuries when the city was a trading port for Burma and South East Asia. This architectural heritage combined with the natural beauty makes Gopalpur a potentially attractive travel destination.
Talking to MCL about the vision of a festival-cum-project like PAGo, Sujit Mohapatra, the main curator of PAGo said, “PAGo beautifully used the heritage ruins of Gopalpur town on the sea side as both a site as well as a backdrop for the festival. The idea was to draw the attention of tourists to these heritage ruins, which they often miss out when they visit Gopalpur, while the locals do not pay enough respect to them. PAGo can therefore act as a magnet for promoting tourism in this part of the state. Even more important, it can help educate and inspire the citizens and stimulate creativity in the schools and community.”
The abbreviation ‘PAGo’ in Odia is a reference to our intangible heritage of practices around food as it means spicing up a curry to make it more delicious. “PAGo is also an attempt at spicing up Gopalpur to make it more attractive for travellers,” added Mahapatra.
He further informed how PAGo focused on the heritage and rich cultural traditions of Gopalpur and Ganjam, from the Bagha Nacha to the Ganjapa playing cards and the crafts such as the Brass Metal fish of Bellaguntha, and attempted to reinvent and re-present them in a contemporary form.
The festival was planned at a time when the Brahmapur Development Authority has also chartered an infrastructural initiation at Gopalpur, ‘Eco-Retreat On Sea’. As the name goes, it would be a quiet, secluded, eco-friendly zone in the town to be inhabited by travellers.
While curtains came down on the two-day festival on March 26, My City Links showcases some interesting elements of the festival in the form of murals and installations (some of which are still a part of the beach town) that left a lasting impact on the visitors while also making the festival a memorable experience for them.
PASSING THE BLACKBUCK
Bhubaneswar-based young artist Dibyush Jena had beautifully painted the never-heard relationship between Bishnoi tribe and black bucks on a wall facing the sea. Not many people are aware that Ganjam has a significant population of black bucks (called Kala Bahutia) who are worshipped by rural folk even though they destroy their farms and produce. It is believed that these black bucks bring in good news. Jena, who in his paintings, has always made an attempt to interpret the relationship between the still, soundless art and the moving, restless world, had paid tribute to this ecological relationship between the tribal folks of Ganjam and the animal through his wall mural.
The ‘Hip’ Bagha
Jena, who is a street artist and muralist and whose painting style is mostly bold with usage of vibrant block colours had presented the traditional Bagha Nacha, the tiger dance through bold and contrasting colours, giving it a modern ‘hip’ feel. The presentation was visually appealing and attracted a lot of attention.
Visually Appealing Textile
Ganjam is culturally a rich district and is particularly known for its textile traditions. Even the famous Bomkai sari originated in a village by that name in Ganjam before it became synonymous with Sonepur. A set of mural drawings by another young artist Satyabhama Majhi showcased this rich textile tradition of Ganjam, by depicting the royal families that patronised them to the village weavers, who are still keeping them alive.
Eye Of The Cyclone
Gopalpur faced the wrath of cyclone Phailin in 2013, which also led to the largest and most effective evacuation of over 10 lakh people to safety. Artist Pratap Jena had paid tribute to this success of the disaster response, through his mural depicting the eye of the cyclone, using a fish made of sand casting, a technique he introduced in Odisha after being inspired by the work of K G Subramanium in Shantiniketan. Through this method, one can create beautiful forms of art through sand, by using a base of Plaster of Paris.
Ashore But Alive
This one would probably be remembered as the largest single mural in the state. With a wall size of 260 ft by 40 ft, the huge surface had been used to draw attention to the increasing number of dead carcasses of blue whales being washed ashore on the Odisha coast including the Rushikulya coast. Being drawn by Satyabhama and her students, this was a rare piece of work which actually enthralled the visitors during PAGo.
Drawings and Dialogues
Conceptualised by artist Birendra Pani with the support of students of Govt. College of Art & Crafts , Khallikote this murale has depicted the crocodiles having plastics inside stomach symbolising the constant water pollution.
Warehouse of Culture
This vintage building is the epitome of the glorious trade history of Gopalpur. As Gopalpur was a port for trade with Burma and South East Asia in the 19th and early 20th centuries, there were many warehouses including this one which now exists in the shape of some broken bricks. Satyabhama and her students had given a makeover to it and converted it once again into a warehouse of culture. The open warehouse was used by the artists to draw attention to three iconic cultural identities of the region through a cultural performance, a practice and a product.
The Hungry Fish
This was made of local scrap (plastic) and iron as a huge scale model of the famous Bellaguntha brass fish, one of the iconic handicrafts of Odisha from Ganjam. Interestingly, the fish moved as well. This fish had plastic bottles inside its belly, symbolically representing the pollution of our water with plastic. This was made by artist Nityanand Ojha, who loves to play with different materials and give them identity and motion using mechanics.
The fishermen families in Gopalpur are the lifeline of the fishing town. Artist Pratap Jena, had tried to create the replica of the same with his installation of a fisherfolk family looking at the sea which for them is life and livelihood. The whole structure was made of straws, symbolising the inevitability of death and decay.
Vanishing Big Red Crab
Gopalpur earlier was flooded with big red crabs that used to move in and out of hotels easily but they have not been seen in the last few years. The crab traditionally seen as a predator has turned into a prey and has shown its vulnerability to ecological changes. Pinaki Mohanty, who grew up in a fishing village near Chilika and is fascinated by biodiversity and beauty, had given an identity to the local crabs while also using Berhampuri Silk textile on their bodies to promote the rich textile tradition.
Translating And Transporting
Gopalpur was a prominent trading port of the British East India Company, which built large warehouses and godowns in Gopalpur for trade with Burma, a link we often forget. Culture was translated and transported along with the goods and people. This past of Gopalpur was revisited in a metaphysical way. Container like objects located at the ruins of the East India Company warehouse pictorially presented the past, present and the future and the cultural life of Ganjam. This art work was conceptualised and executed by artist Ramakanta Samantaray and Smrutikant Rout and their students from Utsha Foundation, Bhubaneswar.
Masses of Olive Ridleys
Currently, the largest mass nesting of the famous transcontinental Olive Ridley turtles happens close to Gopalpur, near the mouth of the Rushikulya river, where it meets the sea. However, these turtles are also vulnerable to fishing nets, boats, crabs, dogs and exploitation by humans. As a result, they are considered an endangered species today. Artist Biswaranjan Kar had highlighted the mass nesting and the plight of the Olive Ridleys through his installation of 1000 turtles which was integrated with a mural depicting the Rushikulya river.
These art forms and paintings apart, the festival also showcased the talent of the performing artists from rural Ganjam in the evenings. Starting from Bagha Nacha to Chaiti Ghoda and Daskathia, Ranapa Dance, Jodi Sankha, Kandhei Nacha to Ghanta Mrudanga, the performances kept the audiences spellbound, setting the perfect mood at the beach side.
Indeed, the PAGo Festival not only made an attempt to revive the local art, dance, culture and folklore of the region, by making use of contemporary art, it attracted the attention of both the locals and the tourists. Such festivals, in fact, can go a long way in promoting tourism, the reason why the guests at inaugural evening gave a call, #LetsPaGo. The idea is to appreciate the ancient heritage and history and bring out the essence of Odishan art not only in Gopalpur but also in other unheard parts of the state.