Nadia Jamil opens doors of new community space in Lahore

A key feature of the institution is that here, the underprivileged can mix with the affluent. PHOTOS: FILE

A key feature of the institution is that here, the underprivileged can mix with the affluent. PHOTOS: FILE

LAHORE: Lahore is a veritable museum of arts, architecture and culture. Both before and after Partition, Pakistan’s popular walled city has always maintained an artistic aura about it, as evidenced from outlets like The Knowledge Factory and Olomopolo Media, which have become symbols of its affinity with the arts.

Now, there is yet another hub for Lahoris to call upon when seeking some intellectual stimulation. After Karachi’s T2F and Kuch Khaas in Islamabad, comes The Empty Space – Nadia Jamil’s Imaginarium.

“Only when a clay pot is empty can one fill it. This is something I have imagined for adults and children alike,” says Jamil of her decision to open a cultural space in the bustling city. “There is so much labelling in our society, we lose ourselves somewhere along the way. At times, we need to empty all of that out and see what we are under all those labels. Sometimes, one has to become nothing before being something.”

It is with this concept that Jamil has nurtured the idea of The Empty Space. For her, this is a safe haven where Lahoris can escape social expectations and discover who they really are. “I want children to be themselves here. I don’t want them to have to be moulded according to society. The space provides them a sanctuary from it all; somewhere they can be what they want and learn new things,” explains Jamil.

According to her, too many children are being discouraged to refrain from too many things, “When schools tell parents that their children cannot do certain things, I tell them what they excel at. I was judged as a child myself, so I know it really breaks a child’s self-confidence. Our school system treats them like sheep – one out of line and he’s cut.”

At The Empty Space, no student is ever asked to put their phone down. Instead, Jamil tries to create an environment wherein they won’t feel the need for a phone at all. People come here to read, write or indulge in kickboxing, yoga, meditation, singing, dancing and painting, or just sit down and have some coffee. The Empty Space also offers special dance classes with Pappu Samrat.

A key feature of the institution is that here, the underprivileged can mix with the affluent. Jamil shares, “Three times a week, the paying children subsidise and pay for the non-paying ones so the place can keep running.”

As a veteran actor herself, Jamil hopes people will take on the idea of cultural spaces and establish similar institutions in other areas too. She wants to see children of the rich and poor play together, the former supporting the latter and adults following suit. The Empty Space also sees plenty of adults coming in for guidance from Jamil and although she doesn’t have a mainstream project – like voice modulation classes for the cast of Balu Mahi – currently, she is working with other young actors.

In the meantime, she is giving finishing touches to a script she wrote for Haissam Hussain. It is romantic story, like the ones she usually gravitates towards. “I am generally and genuinely, a romantic. But there are themes in my head, like FATA and Kashmir that are very important to me. I can’t take romance out of it.”

Being an avid Karan Johar and Yash Chopra fan, Jamil agrees that her output will generally be very commercial, barring one or two projects. “It is a great thing that films are being made in Pakistan now and incredible talent is shifting from TV to cinema. I like that we are original and there are a lot of different voices and stories coming up.”

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