AGORA: A Platform For Creativity In Art, Culture And Theatre
In the somewhat cold month of February, two friends decided to go for coffee. They started discussing how Guwahati, with a population of approximately 11 lakh people, is fast becoming a thriving metropolis city, recognised now as a cultural hub in its own right and how there has been an influx of people who are coming back or wanting to do something here.
The duo belongs to the young artists’ community in the city and was wondering how they could engage all these people who have returned home to Guwahati for a better life.
Then, light bulb!
The two friends thought of conducting an eclectic exhibition on identity, Porisoi and that was just the beginning. Starting from that day, they decided that they would build a community where people from the region could revel, thrive, learn and most of all, feel happy to have come back home.
In the past few years, there have been numerous up-and-coming initiatives that are adding to the city’s growing art and culture scene. One such initiative has been taken up by Radhika Goswami, Director of AGORA The Space, a platform that provides people the opportunity to come together, form networks and maintain positive well-being by actively engaging in various forms of art and culture that is inclusive, dynamic and provides holistic development.
“The word ‘Agora’ in Greek means a meeting place for people. I wanted to create a space where art and culture are inclusive and connect people; build a platform to talk about a holistic approach to well-being and develop how art and culture can make a difference in people’s lives, individually and on a collective level. That’s how the whole idea of building a new age art community came about,” said Goswami passionately.
The director, who recently graduated with a Masters degree in Social Anthropology, has always had an interest in theatre. She wanted to mix the two components and see what she could create with it. AGORA, a collective brainchild of art and theatre enthusiasts, is a space where one can be seen discussing and bringing together different ethnicities and communities.
“They (artists and participants) belong to the space and the space belongs to them, and they can explore as much as they like,” mentioned Goswami.
The five month old social entrepreneurship initiative began with one simple idea - to give you a voice, not just as an artist, but as a human being, you should be heard and represented, explained Goswami.
Currently, the space conducts regular workshops, theatre and movie sessions. They work on three main areas - art and culture, technical skills and research and development.
“With the art and culture cell, we do exhibitions such as Porisoi, theatre sessions and much more. Just last month, we staged our first production, ‘Sentenced.’ We do various sorts of art activities and we don’t discriminate on that. We are very open to different art forms and try to be as neutral a place as possible, so all voices are heard and if we can do it as differently as possible, that’s great for us,” informed Goswami.
She also said that for her space, the main agenda is that people who come to AGORA for a particular event, should go back home with a sense of knowledge and gratification, meaning that they remember the event or exercise for a long time, and hopefully, it will be a part of them, and something that will help them in their daily lives.
Delving deeper into some of the space’s past projects, Goswami explained more about Porisoi and Sentenced.
“We did Porisoi with three other organisations - East India Poet, Kolpor Golpo and Guwahati Art Project (GAP). It was our first major event and was an attempt to understand what we say and mean when we talk or think about identity and how identity works on individual, multiple and collective levels,” said the director.
Identity as a static and fluid notion was incorporated into the curation of the exhibition, where photographs, art and video installations were a part of the static model and every evening for three days, a fluid component of dance, theatre, music and poetry was introduced for the performative component. An open-mic was also held on the last day of the event where participants could also interact and be part of the whole show, added Goswami.
Speaking of their latest production, ‘Sentenced’ Goswami said that the idea was novel, as the piece was experimental where spoken word and theatre were used as two mediums of communication, and clubbed together to see what different kind of product could be made. The piece also had a revolving audience, rather than a set stage, as the stage was broken up so that the play existed in vacuum where the audience would move around with the actors.
The space has also conducted other events such as workshops for social research and design, counter speech with YLAC and many more. In addition to this, they also host other organisations and art collectives and bring in their events, by becoming venue partners for them.
AGORA mainly caters to the age group 18-30 as Goswami and her team realised that there are very few things that cater to this age group in terms of sustainable well-being, be it in the financial sense or in terms of mental health. They feel that for the working population, especially the younger population, there isn’t much being done, so they would like to encourage these people to pursue their interests and passions.
“With theatre, my agenda was mainly that people should come and enjoy simply being part of a thing before anything else. The community only thrives when everyone thinks they belong to that community and they are vested in it. So, the idea is not just to exist, but to collaborate,” explained Goswami.
Looking to the future, the director wants to use the space as an art and culture think tank where people from the region and the country can come and conduct their applied work here as well as conduct research.
“We can become the medium through which they do it and can have a digital archive or an online library at some point which helps people. We also want to invest in making our theatre events into workshops and conduct exhibitions or acoustic sessions with experts from across the country for budding filmmakers and musicians so that they can gain exposure as well as learn the technical aspects of their respective mode of art,” said Goswami.
The space hosts regular events which are posted on their Facebook and Instagram pages. They don’t have registrations and everyone is welcome to come in free of cost for theatre and movie club activities. However, they do charge a nominal fee for bigger events keeping in mind the artist and the appreciation of their art.
“We are a very neutral space but the space takes the shape of the event that is happening. This whole idea that we focus on well-being comes from the fact that we want people as a community and as an artistic community to thrive and to succeed in their own individual ways and also help each other in that growth,” said Goswami in closing.