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Rhagurajpur International Artist in Residence Program

Written by Shirley Rimer, a Canadian artist from Red Deer, Alberta, who participated in the Raghurajpur International Art and Culture Exchange in 2016.

Shirely Rimer at Cow Dung Toy WorkshopI recently had the opportunity to travel to Rhagurajpur, in Odisha, India, to participate in a five week artist in residence program.  Although I am primarily a ceramist, I was excited to experience some historical forms of art expression that are unique to this village.


Rhagurajpur is a village off the beaten track in the rural heartland of Nuapatna Silk VillageOdisha.  Upon entering the village one can feel a history of tradition, both religious and cultural.  What is most striking is the beauty of a community totally involved in art and craft; a village of artisans.  Raghurajpur has 123 homes, holding close to 400 artists.  It is believed the Chitrakaras or Pata Chitra painters settled in the village during the 12th Century A.D.  Along with the pata chitra paintings, the traditions of colorful Cow Dung Toys and Masks, the Palm Leaf Engravings, and other forms of painting and crafts are an integral part of village life.


Rhagurajpur EntranceRaghurajpur is the only village in India where every home is engaged in some form of art making.  Strolling the streets of this village, one can see a variety of these arts and crafts displayed on verandas and through the doorways of the homes.  Within the village, running through the centre of the main street, there are temples around which the social life of the villagers revolves.  Many religious celebrations take place in these temples throughout the year.  These fairs and festivals are an integral part of the life of the village and the artisans of the village play a key role in preparing the ritual sculptures and wall paintings in these celebrations.  Orissa is the holy land of the Hindus and the paintings of the Chitrakara, Tassar (silk Shirely Rimer at Seminar in Bubhaneswarpainters), and the Palm Leaf Carvers, represents a tradition of religious iconography.

As a Canadian artist visiting Rhagurajpur for the first time, I was awestruck by the beauty of these works of art.  Having had the opportunity to work with some of the Masters of the various arts and crafts of the region, I was humbled by the craftsmanship, talent and precision of these artists.  It was truly a challenge and a great learning experience.

The other element of these works that struck me profoundly was the use of inherent and readily available materials to create these objects.  The materials and colors are locally sourced and are today the same as those used for centuries.  The labor involved in the preparation of these works is immense.  For example, the canvases used for the Pata Chitra paintings are made from old saris.  They are stretched, coated in tamarind paste and ground chalk and layered until they form a thick canvas, which is then cut and used as the backdrop for these intricate paintings.  The palm leaves are cut into strips, dried and sewn together before being carved with a sharp iron stylus.  The intricacies of the drawings and the precision needed to carve the palm leaves takes years of practice.  The final impression seems perfect, without flaws and full of tales of the Gods and Goddesses and historical writings of the region.  The Cow Dung Toys are another unique example of the use of readily available materials.

The stories told on these surfaces are the stories of the people who create them.  These villagers have spent their lives retelling these stories in their works of art.  They celebrate their history, both in the way they live and the work they do.  By visiting this village and working with these Masters, I felt myself crossing the bridge into the history of this work.  I believe this wonderful experience will find itself intrinsic in my future work.

- by Shirley Rimer

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