Close to 1000 people visited the Preet Nagar Mela (Feb 16-17 and Feb 22-23 2019), marking the culmination of Creative Interruption’s work in Punjab. The ‘Mela’ (festival) was held at the historical site of Punjabi literature and culture, Preet Nagar. Half-way between two of Punjab’s most important cities, Lahore (Pakistan) and Amritsar (India), Preet Nagar is located 7km from one of the most militarised borders in the world. Preet Lari, based in the village, is one of the most significant Punjabi-language magazines, running since 1933. Since its inception the magazine embraced the linguistic diversity of Punjab, publishing in Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi, and English, working across the scripts and languages of Punjab. Working through Partition and waves of political unrest in Punjab, Preet Lari represents a Punjabi culture which is inclusive, pluralistic, and which consistently imagines across borders.

The Mela was developed to exhibit work undertaken during artist residencies over October and November 2018. The artists were from India, Mauritius, Canada, and students from Srishti Institute for Art, Design and Technology (Bangalore). They worked with local craftspeople, schoolchildren, and grassroots NGOs to produce work that responded to the theme of ‘Beyond Borders’. This work was designed to celebrate all kinds of creativity, from brass making and traditional weaving, to singing and folk tales.

To make this work accessible to a broad audience, and to connect a new generation to the legacy of Preet Lari, the Mela was held in a former cow and animal feed shed that had been converted into a community exhibition space for the festival in Preet Nagar. By combining the traditional format of an exhibition with talks, performances, singing and dancing, and by using a site which is recognisable to people living in smaller rural communities (a farmhouse and out buildings), the Mela attracted an incredibly diverse audience, from people working in the creative economies in Amritsar and Delhi, to local children in neighbouring villages, and craftspeople and workpeople who had helped with the preparation of the Mela, from doing electrical work to labouring.

The Mela gave this broad audience two performances from the singer and academic Madan Gopal Singh (and Chaar Yaar) and the Punjab University (Patiala) group, which demonstrated how fluid storytelling, music and spirituality has been in the Punjab.

This work has been funded by the Punjab strand of Creative Interruptions led by Churnjeet Mahn (CI, University of Strathclyde). Along with Churnjeet, the Mela team was made up of: Ratika Singh and Samia Singh (exhibition designers), Raghavendra Rao KV (art director), and Anne Murphy (UBC, Canada). The Mela was hosted by Poonam Singh and Rati Kant Singh who edit and publish Preet Lari.

Part of the art shown during the Mela, and a VR film about the Mela, will be shown at the BFI as part of the Creative Interruptions festival in June 2019.