In conversation with Amar Alam, a writer and editor based in Lahore who runs Pandemonium Publications
The News on Sunday: What is Pandemonium Publications; how did you start it and what role do you hope it plays in Lahore’s writing culture?
Amar Alam: Pandemonium Publications aims to be a wide ranging arts and literature platform in Lahore. Once we generate enough content from our art and writing workshops, we hope to have an online presence. It started as most artsy projects starts; with a group of writers and visual artists bemoaning that there isn’t enough space for art and literature in Pakistan. I’ve previously taught at Beaconhouse National University. Currently I am conducting a creative writing seminar at Lahore School of Economics. A lot of young adults find themselves lost after graduating with a degree in art or liberal arts. As a writer, one can either join the media or teach. There is no space in the mainstream for literary writing. So a few of us got together and started a writers’ workshop; to find inspiration, share ideas and give each other feedback. Through word of mouth, eventually more people joined, and the response was overwhelming. Since many participants didn’t have any prior writing to share, we would do exercises. Surrealist exercises became our touchstone, as they are a great way to channel one’s own symbolism and release creativity from the unconscious mind. We use rhetorical techniques for honing structure and skill, involved in writing for an audience. Eventually, we had enough poems and short prose, all representing the raw and real stream of thought of our participants, to publish a chapbook by the name of Trigger. And so Pandemonium Publications was born. Just like our writings, it all evolved quite organically.
TNS: You recently held an automatic writing workshop on 2nd November. How do these surrealist techniques help writers and artists with their creativity? What do you feel these participants take away from your workshops?
AA: We all know there is a vacuum when it comes to creativity and free expression in our society. After graduating from college; the constraints and demand of everyday life begin to clamour in the background, and we all tend to fall into mundane routines. It is difficult to express one’s self freely and talk about the things that affect us -- socially, emotionally, spiritually -- as a community or individuals, especially in a conservative and repressed society. We want to show people that it’s possible to let out all the fears, insecurities and traumas we all go through. It is possible to turn all experiences, even the negative ones, into something beautiful through art. And it’s possible to find your voice and become the author of your own story, whether that’s in a fictional setting or in life. All of the major movements in the arts came from communities of creative people coming together and working towards a common goal. And since we experienced this creative magic for ourselves in the first workshop; we want to share it with more people. We’ve had some very diverse participants in our workshops; including teachers, students, journalists, visual artist and practicing professionals who never found the creative outlet that they needed. We all have creativity inside of us, even those who have never explored that side of their personalities.
TNS: What’s next for Pandemonium and what are your aspirations for its future and such workshops?
Currently, we are running two workshops; surrealist drawing and writing. A painting workshop, which will teach participants to communicate through colour is starting in a few weeks. Sachal Rizvi and Rameesha Azeem, both qualified visual artists, are teaching the drawing and painting workshops. I will be conducting the writing workshops. We also have a certified therapist, Sohaib Arshad, who will be conducting a logotherapy workshop --aimed at learning and evolving through writing-- and another one called ‘Symbols of the self in fairytales’; to explore what one can learn about oneself by engaging with stories.
We accept registrations on a rolling basis and everyone is welcome to join. There are no age restrictions and no prior experience is necessary. We aim to end each workshop with a publication or an exhibition, since we are not beholden to any one philosophy or technique. We introduce techniques and exercises based on our participants’ needs as individuals, to get them from idea to first draft to the finished product. To register for our workshops or to learn more about us feel free to email us at [email protected] or find us on instagram @pandemonium publications.