sports, protest and peace…

@versaillesboy via Twitter screenshot

“When I was a teenager, I skipped school, so I could see cricket matches at Karachi’s National Stadium,” I told Minal and her friends while driving to school. “That’s when Pakistan was playing against India.”

We were talking about the Astros (Houston) versus Dodgers (Los Angeles) baseball series, a game that I never followed prior to this year.

Minal’s eyes widened: “You liked sports? You skipped school?”

I nodded. “And I hung posters of cricket players in my room.”

She didn’t ask who the players were, and neither did I want to elaborate.

When hearing me talk about my teenage passion for cricket, Minal has reason to be surprised. I rarely pay attention to sports. But this year, even as I track baseball scores, I am also watching the protest movement that (now unemployed) US football player Colin Kaepernick started by “taking the knee”. Even though Kaepernick is no longer on a US football team, his act of resistance was adopted by players across the country. A month ago, by the time “taking the knee” drew racist comments by #45, the movement had grown not just amidst professional players but also on college campuses; at Howard University, women cheerleaders have been “taking the knee” since last fall.

Change is initiated through protest, and sports can play a pivotal role. And though systemic racism is difficult to erase, I wonder what kind of shifts would occur in US society if every team and all players—in all sports, all genders, all levels (professional, college, high school)—chose protest?

In the meantime, going back to cricket, this week a historic peace-making series unfurled: Sri Lanka’s cricket team arrived in Lahore, the city where in 2009, the convoy of the Sri Lankan national team was attacked by 12 gunmen while heading to the stadium.

28 Oct 2017 · 10:29:27 PM

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#metoo…

Minal creating a nature installation to cover an exposed nail; Karachi 2011

The accepted statistic that one in three women will suffer sexual abuse is antiquated. I still think about my #MeToo encounters—on the street with strangers, at the homes of friends with their fathers, and at my Karachi house by domestic help—and I remember the date rape and incest stories that my friends and past students in Houston have shared with me. In fact, I don’t know many women who have not encountered a sexual predator at some point in their lives. And fourteen years ago, when I learned that I was pregnant with a girl, my first response was exhilaration. But the second thought that floated through my mind was: How will I protect her?

A week ago, #metoo went viral, and women around the globe shared their experiences. The term “Me Too” was generated in 2007 by Tarana Burke at a time before hashtags, and Burke’s assertion that there needs to be an urgent conversation about race and feminism is necessary. At the same time, we also have to recognize that sexual harassment pushes past national borders: Even as stories about assault by men holding positions of power in government and entertainment emerge, the reality remains that women from all backgrounds around the globe still have to learn to defend ourselves at work, on the streets, and often, even in our homes.

I’m glad women are sharing their stories and some men are facing the consequences of their crimes, but I would like to see long-term global change in action and policy. Social media activism can be productive, but often, one trend replaces another. Today I ask: How can we force change during our lifetime?

Minal’s nature installation covering an exposed nail; Karachi 2011

24 Oct 2017 · 09:00:41 PM

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revisiting a home...

Archive photos of my father Dr. Mohammad Sarwar and his passing that I used in 2009 to create an installation Listening from Within; the larger production was called Honoring Dissent/Descent

While in Houston for a few days, I stopped by Copy.Com to do some printing for my project, On Belonging, that I am planning for February 2018 at the Menil Collection. I was greeted by the owner Jordan, who welcomed me.

“I cry every time I enter a printing shop in Pasadena,” I told him. “I wish I had a Copy.com there!”

Jordan smiled and said: “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you.”

And I knew that Jordan meant what he said. For decades, while I was teaching and then operating VBB, I printed postcards, posters, anthologies, production programs and more at the same family-owned printing shop. During the nineties when I was a Writers in the Schools (WITS) writer at the Rice School, I knew Jordan’s father, Steve. And a few years ago, Jordan donated the printing of color photographs for a project that Minal was doing at her school.

Later that afternoon, I stopped by the University of Houston’s Library’s Special Collections where an archive has been started about my work. After a two-hour visit with archivist Vince Lee and graduate student Genny Joshi where I searched for photographs and helped Vince retag some of the material—my archive is, (no surprise!) mixed up with VBB’s archive)—I drove away, appreciative of the work that Vince and his team have undertaken.

These two encounters are just two moments extracted from four days of laughter and visits with fellow artists, friends, colleagues and community members. I am reminded of how connections are created by living and sharing moments, and am learning all over again that personal history cannot be reproduced.


The entrance of Copy.Com, Houston, Texas

13 Oct 2017 · 01:59:17 PM

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