Sunday, January 17, 2010

Peaceful Progress

No. 3

Last weekend I got a glimpse of, according to the beliefs of a few locals, an emergent socio-cultural movement in Lahore. This movement is fostering a peaceful sense of urgency to give people access to education and new ways of simply experiencing life, through art and design. I witnessed a bit of whatever it is that’s on a slow & steady rise, through two inspiring events – a Kathak performance at Alhamra Theater and the 3rd International Conference on Sustainable Building Design (SBD) in South Asia (hosted by the National College of Architecture Lahore, NCA).

I was fortunate enough to be invited to a classical dance performance at Alhamra Theater. I said ‘yes!’ without question because being invited to do something other than eat is a rare occasion and I was curious since dancing of any sort is frowned upon in PK. The event was phenomenal – it turned out to be a 2 hour live performance of south Asian dance and music at its best. For the first time since my arrival I was in a public space, with a fairly large gathering of people, and I felt calm, relaxed and at peace (credit to the artists).

I did some research and learned that the classical dance, Kathak, is not native to Pakistan, rather to the northern region of India (there are eight well known classical Indian dance types). The female Kathak dancer was graceful, striking and carried the art of her dance with class, character and beauty. I was incredibly moved by Kathak – so much so that within days I sought out Nahid Siddiqui, a world-renown Kathak dancer, singer & artist, to find out if she’d be willing to teach me the art of Kathak.

The opportunity would be such a boon to my time here! It would offer new perspectives with which I might better understand the historical and current cultural perspectives on performing arts and the affects on society. And it would give me a chance to move around outside of the gym! It’s also fitting that Kathak translates, in Sanskrit, to mean ‘he/she who tells a story.’ I am constantly learning, listening to, and sharing stories of living and working in PK. So, it will be interesting to see if(!) I’m able to tell a story, by the end of my time here, through this fascinating form of dance.

Interestingly (and to some degree not surprisingly), I found many of the audience members from the Alhamra performance at the 3rd International SBD conference. The objective of the conference was twofold: to bring a diverse group of professionals together to establish a post graduate program on sustainable architecture & design; to discuss the next evolution of sustainable design in PK. I attended the first of the two-day conference in order to help me get a sense of the architectural landscape in Lahore, understand contextual discussions around sustainability and build on an existing network of architects & planners (basically I attended for work).

On a high level it was motivating to listen to people agree and disagree on the processes by which individuals and institutions use to address the growing need to minimize a buildings’ consumption of resources and its direct effects on the ecosystem. Many of the debates about environmental sustainability that are taking place in the west are alive and present in Lahore; there’s a growing consensus – evident in NCA’s work to develop a sustainability curriculum and produce eco-minded design professionals – that environmental mindfulness is critical.

The conference went beyond academia to the practical stuff of financing as many commented about the lack of patient capital with which to invest in a sustainability movement. Affordable housing, for instance, needs more financing options (in PK) to support the effort to build healthy communities. I wanted to say we need more entities like Acumen, but…clearly I’m biased & I’m working on my listening skills ; )

So…two great experiences that changed my thinking about people and life here in Lahore. This (seemingly) quiet movement around social justice, equality and unleashing the strength that lies within the people to change/enhance their lives leads me to wonder if this charge just needs a few strong, courageous leaders to use their blessings of access, education and prosperity to push a little harder for change.

Photos: NCA’s academic buildings & student exhibits (photos of indigenous instruments –used during the Alhamra event)

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