sneaking a cup of coffee during an islamabad ramzan morning...

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.

a grant award for my "what is home?" project...

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.

a visit to rohtas 2 in lahore...

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 again...

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.

a panel discussion for the mitchell center...

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.

IMG 2552 from sehba sarwar on Vimeo.

a frosty morning minal-ism..

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…

year of the horse celebration...

A lion at Houston’s Chinese Cultural Center’s Year of the Horse celebration.

travel stories...

My piece, Bangladesh’s Unresolved History of Independence, and video just appeared in Creative Time Reports.

finding comfort...

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.

Later, my friend Nema. reminds me that five years ago, she and I ate at that same restaurant when I visited her university to talk about Pakistan’s black diaspora.

what is home?

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.

getting ready to kick off borderlines...

We are just a few days before VBB starts our Borderlines production series, with Marking History, an art and potluck gathering at Moody Park in Houston, Texas.

eid in houston...

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.

striking down "reclaiming home"...

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.

comfort food...

Paratha and sugar / cheeni – Minal’s comfort food.

istanbul airport - again...

Minal and I experience a five-time security checking in Istanbul airport before we board our flight to Houston. Nonetheless, we are grateful that Turkish Airlines is now flying directly from Houston to Istanbul and it’s a flight we’ll be taking many times over the coming years – especially since we’ve discovered a new friend, Tuna, who runs a bed and breakfast while her sister operates Kulindag, a yoga center.

end of ramzaan...

Even though the city continues to experience violence – especially after yesterday’s bomb-blast that killed at least seven people including young children in Lyari – there is a frenzy in the air; tomorrow could be Eid-ul-Fitr. We head out to Uzma Arcade to purchase bangles for Minal so she can have the “Eid experience.”

Long rows of women sitting in folding chairs hunch over their client women’s palms and feet, applying mehndi-henna. Rim Jhim, the choori-shop we choose, is packed with women matching bangles with their clothes. We find the right colors for Minal and she gets the full experience as the shopkeeper pushing the bangles past her fingers. When we were her age, our family often waited till night time once Eid was announced before we went bangle-shopping

At night, we hear a ripple of gunshots – Eid has been announced and firing of guns is the way many people around the city are celebrating the end of Ramzaan.

creating art...

Minal creating art with found objects. Above: a toothpick to create a design in her ice-cream; below: flowers in a dried leaf.

a busy day...

Today’s a packed day: in the afternoon, a group of artists gather in the house, and I share updates about Bangladesh as well as details about VBB’s Borderlines project. At night, with friends, we head over to Ocean Mall, where Mideast Hospital once was, and there’s a celebration to welcome the end of the month of Ramzaan. The seven-level building contains clothing stores, movie theaters, and a food mall, but we leave the space with a joint opinion that the architects overlooked an integral element of the building: the sound is horrible, leaving our ears pounding from noise that bounced around the building.

I’m reminded once again of how much I prefer open-markets where the sea-air acts as a coolant, and noise control occurs naturally through wind and open space.

after the rain...

We take a spontaneous trip to the beach. Rainwater clogs the streets, but once we reach Hawksbay, we are rewarded by an empty beach. The high-tide from the day before has washed up plastic, bottles and other trash. Alongside the trash, amidst piles of stones, are sea-shells that look like pearls.

monsoon rains...

Monsoon rains descend today. All plans get cancelled, and we stay at home to enjoy alloo-puri – with electricity, to my surprise. But at night, the lights fade away for a few hours. This summer, “load-shedding” has been considerably less. One of our friends who manages Karachi’s controversial electricity service tells me that KESC has instituted a new policy: neighborhoods where residents pay bills receive non-stop power, while low-income neighborhoods where electricity is being stolen and/or not being paid for are experiencing the daily burden of 5-6 hours without electricity.