After visiting with Sharlene at the South Asian Visual Arts Center (SAVAC), a 20-year-old arts organization, I wander down the streets of downtown Toronto with my friend Salma. Next to a street stall displaying batik skirts and jewelry, I stop to admire a tree sculpture.
A little further down, I capture an image of “borderline” on a store window, a very different interpretation of the word from one that we’re exploring for VBB’s Borderlines production series.
Minal and I press close to the airplane window as we watch the airplane drop closer toward Lake Ontario’s blue water. In the background is Toronto’s skyline.
At customs, after responding to questions such as why I’m visiting Toronto and where’s Minal’s father, we walk over to the conveyer belt to pick up our luggage. Once we have our baggage, we load the trolley and head toward an exit, but the only sign we see is one that leads to a ferry. With some assistance, we learn that Billy Bishop Airport is on an island, and to reach the shore, we have to wheel our baggage onto a ferry, which will drop us off into the passenger pickup area.
My sister, Beena Sarwar, has a spate of snack-recipes to share: baked beets, sauteed carrots and baked cauliflowers – to name just a few.
The pre-Eid shopping frenzy has already begun in Karachi, and shopping centers remain open after iftari. One night, Ammi and I wander over to the Forum, so I can purchase some books, and after entering the shopping center, we find ourselves walking past a window displaying lingerie. Further down is some music and drumming and we stumble onto a breakdancer holding audience beneath the escalators.
My friend Ilona Yusuf sneaks me into a café in Islamabad.
They may throw us out, she says. But let’s try anyway.
She shares the story of how she and her son tried to visit the café during the first few days of Ramzan earlier this month, but they weren’t allowed up the stairs where non-Pakistanis were being served beverages and food. I’ve been spending time with friends and family with little desire to dine anywhere but at residential homes, so the reminder of General Zia’s Ramzan Ordinance is jarring.
This morning, though, we are permitted inside, and we spend our morning imbibing coffee and catching up.
I take a drive up to the Wagah border to experience the raising of flags ceremony that has been documented many times over. The afternoon is humid and hot, and the soldiers dressed in black, are streaming strands of sweat even as they march across the steaming asphalt.
The ceremony is a performance that takes place every single day as both Indian and Pakistani soldiers march, kick up legs and raise and lower the flags, but with ramzaan underway, the Pakistani crowds are thin. On the Indian side, though, across the gates are compressed bodies packed on cement stairs, and men walk through the crowd, selling flags. After the ceremony ends, a couple of clowns on the Pakistan side pound on drums and wave flags.
As we walk away, I know that this act of daily patriotism is one that I can only bear to witness once.
I learn via email that I’ve been awarded an artist innovations grant through the Mid-America Arts Alliance for my What is Home? project, one that I started eighteen months ago during my residency with the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts.
Thanks to Salima Hashmi, I spend the evening iftar with a group of artists at Rohtas 2, a gallery on one side of Professor Hashmi’s house as we discuss Voices Breaking Boundaries’ Borderlines project.
Dubai airport continues to expand, getting increasingly glamorous with little credit given to men from different parts of Asia who provide hard labor yet live outside the city’s air-conditioned glass bubble.
As part of my residency with the Mitchell Center for the Arts, I participate at CounterCurrents 2014 in a panel discussion, Challenging the Boundaries: Collaboration Among the Arts, and about my residency itself, for which I’m creating a memoir What Is Home?. As the conversation closes out, Daniel Romain improvises a short piece in response to one of my images.
I wake up late this Sunday morning, and when I wander into the kitchen, I find that Ammi and Minal have kneaded whole-wheat flour to create dough for fresh-fried puris. While I make a desi-omelette with cillantro, jalapeños, onions and tomatoes, Ammi fries the puris. The crispy bread is as delicious in Houston as it is in Karachi.
We’re listening to Patti Smith’s song, “1959”, as I drive Minal to school this frosty morning. Because of the song, our conversation moves toward student activism.
Minal: I predict there won’t be war in one century.
Me: Why do you say that?
Minal: Because there are so many children in this world who don’t believe in war, Ammi!
Me: So, will you be around?
Minal: I don’t think so…
A lion at Houston’s Chinese Cultural Center’s Year of the Horse celebration.
My piece, Bangladesh’s Unresolved History of Independence, and video just appeared in Creative Time Reports.
The temperature is freezing cold as I wander through the roundabout near George Washington University in search of Thai food. As I walk on Pennsylvania Avenue, I walk past a restaurant called Mehran, where I stop to take a peek. The neon lights and the smell of spice draws me in. Inside, I find a buffet meal – an authentic Pakistani restaurant. I abandon my plans for Thai food and settle in for fresh daal, vegetables and karhi along with a crisp naan.
In my two-year residency at the University of Houston’s Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, I have the opportunity to work on a subject, What Is Home?, and explore material that has been at the heart of my writing and artistic practice for quite some time. This fall, I was invited to present at TEDxHouston, a perfect place to share some thoughts that have cropped up for me during my residency.
As part of the Eid celebration, Minal decides to learn the skill of applying mehndi / henna on her own feet and her friend’s palm.
Today’s the strike down for Coming Through the Gap on a Mountain on an Elephant, a production curated by Robert Pruitt. For the group show, I burned copies of visas, created a string of cardamom, cinnamon and bay leaves, and used candles and a yoga mat. The final installation was called Reclaiming Home, my way of finding peace at a time when place of birth determines what visas are obtained or denied.
Clump of burned visas with shadows of a spice string.
A view of the larger installation.