26 Jan, 2018

on belonging in houston…

26 Jan, 2018

On Belonging survey response cards placed on ajrak, a fabric from Sindh, Pakistan and Gujarat, India; participants’ mothers’ born in (left) China (right) Thailand

Houston weather has been good to me. For the past decade, I’ve produced indoor-outdoor living room art shows around the city, and despite dire weather predictions, the sun always rolled out at the right moment. We never had to change production plans – even in summer 2016 when we experienced an afternoon downpour at Voices Breaking Boundaries’ Borderlines’ final production. But by the second part of the afternoon, the sun peeked out, and the show went on. But this year, Houston’s weather patterns—floods, snow, and ice—have been off the charts. So I’m not surprised that there is rain forecast next weekend, when I’ll be in town to perform and install my On Belonging project.

A few days ago, I agreed to move my performance from outdoors by the oak tree in front of the Cy Twombly gallery to indoors at the Menil’s Byzantine Fresco Chapel; I’ll also place the installation closer to the Chapel. And if the ajrak and survey response cards (see examples above) are rained out, I’m making sure that the 350+ cards that I’ve been collecting — with help from family and friends —since October 2017 (see samples above) are documented. And I have plenty of ajrak fabric thanks to my Karachi-based cousin Aisha Gazdar who purchased the fabric and sent to me via my friend Kishwar Jaffer, who just returned to Pasadena with her suitcases stuffed.

In June 2015, when Menil curator Michelle White invited me to create a performance as part of programming for Mona Hatoum’s Terra Infirma exhibition, I had no idea that René would be offered a position in Pasadena, California, and that after being based in Houston for more than two decades, our family unit would take the leap to move. I also didn’t know that On Belonging, which I conceptualized as an outdoor experience in a specific space, would have to move indoors.

Two and a half years have passed since Michelle’s invitation. Working on my production from afar has certainly given me new understanding for what the word belonging can mean. Today, I feel deep gratitude to friends and family — especially Oskar Sonnen who’s serving as production manager, and has recorded and edited sound, designed comment cards, and done so much more. My mother flew into town last week and will help with the installation — even as she’s offered hospitality by my Houston friends, who have hosted her as if she were part of their families.

Today, five days away from my show, as I ponder on issues of belonging, I’m thinking of the comment that I made in August 2016 at the “going-away” party that my friend Yolanda Alvarado threw for me when I said: I don’t know how to leave.

That statement still holds true.

survey response cards on ajrak; participants’ mothers’ born in (left) Haiti (right) USA