A multidisciplinary project by Sehba Sarwar

On Belonging

Through my On Belonging multidisciplinary project, I explore my life as transnational citizen alongside my family’s history of migration and displacement.

On Belonging is a poignant, engaging, and thoughtful meditation about how our unique stories—of where we come from and how we define home—bring us together.

—Michelle White, Senior Curator, Menil Collection

Current exhibition

 

October 8, 2021, 6- 10 pm: On ArtNight Pasadena, my On Belonging site specific installation will be up for viewing in three Pasadena public parks (Memorial, Victory, and McDonald). In the new phase of my project, I invited community members as well as students from Pasadena High School and Blair High School to share cards about how thy found comfort during the pandemic. Please visit all three parks; the installation will be up for two weeks between October 8 – 24.

UPDATE – October 5, 2021: On the weekend of October 3-4, I worked with friends Shaista Parveen, Salma Qazi, Jamie Asaye Lahey FitzGerald, LeeRoy  Lahey as well as with family (René, Minal, and Ammi) to install On Belonging in the three parks. I was done with most of the installations by Sunday afternoon, but when I drove by to check on McDonald Park, I saw that the installation had vanished – it had been STOLEN. I’ve filed a police report and am still trying to process the information. Additionally, the installation in Memorial Park had been vandalized. I will post more on my blog soon. Currently, only the Victory Park installation is up for viewing. If you’re in southern California, please visit the park’s southwest corner to see the three trees at Victory Park.

On Belonging is cosponsored  by the Armory Center for the Arts. The project is funded in part by Pasadena Arts & Culture Commission and the City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs Division.

My On Belonging installation on a hundred-year old carob tree at Scripps College, Claremont California, Fall 2019; photo Sehba Sarwar

Past Productions

September 2019: I was invited to create my On Belonging installation at Scripps College on a 100-year-old carob tree, where it remained up for three weeks. Students participated by submitting cards; I also gave a reading from my novel Black Wings (Veliz Books, 2019).

February 2018: I launched On Belonging when I was commissioned by the Menil Collection. I presented a 40-minute live performance through which I explored my journey as a transnational citizen alongside my family’s history of migration and displacement, while creating space for community members to share their journeys. At the performance, I incorporated my history interwoven with voice recordings by my mother, daughter, husband as well as audio renditions from comments extracted from response cards that were completed by more than 500 community members in cities around the US. Using the cards that I collected, I created a site-specific art installation on an oak tree at the Menil Collection campus. The installation included ajrak fabric from my home city Karachi in Sindh (Pakistan)—the ajrak design is also claimed by residents on the other side of the border in the Indian provinces of Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Sehba has an amazing ability to paint masterpieces evoking time, place, and feeling with words. I am always in awe. It’s essential to make time for On Belonging to feed the spirit and keep the soul intact.

— On Belonging audience member

Images from On Belonging, my site-specific installation at the Menil Collection; photos by Paul Hester and the Menil Collection

On Belonging was launched in February 2018 at Houston’s Menil Collection campus to complement artist Mona Hatoum’s 2017-18 Terra Infirma art exhibition.

On Belonging is dedicated to global communities and refugees who resist walls, borders and checkpoints. Each time, I initiate the project, I distribute comment cards to gather community member responses about journeys that they have undertaken. Residents in Austin, Boston, El Paso, Houston, Karachi, Los Angeles, McAllen, Montreal, Washington DC have completed cards. Their mothers were born in countries including Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Canada, China, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Guyana, Haiti, Hawaii, Honduras, Indonesia, India, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Spain, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, USSR, Vietnam, and USA; less than 10 percent of participants reside in the same location as their mothers’ birth cities reaffirming my belief that refugees, migrants, humans will cross regardless of barriers.

“On Belonging poems and more” on Nomad, a Papercuts literary magazineRead More »
“My Voice: Sehba Sarwar ’86 On Belonging” in Mount Holyoke College Alumnae Quarterly; July 2019Read More »
Video excerpt from performance at the Menil CollectionView here »
On Belonging installation and Black Wings reading at Scripps College, Claremont, CARead More »
View images from my On Belonging performanceView Here »
View photos from my On Belonging installationView Here »
Read my essay about On Belonging in the Houston ChronicleRead More »

I am available to tour On Belonging with all or some of the project components (performance, site-specific installation, workshops, and community conversations). Please contact me if you’re interested in bringing On Belonging to your city or campus!

On Belonging has been supported in part by the Menil Collection; Mount Holyoke College Alumna Fellowship; Mid-America Arts Alliance, the National Endowment for the Arts, Texas Commission on the Arts, and foundations, corporations and individuals throughout Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. The project was developed through my 2012-14 residency with the University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts and through my work with Voices Breaking Boundaries.

CONTACT

I am an author and speaker, an artist, and a community and cultural activist.

If I can use my talents and passions to inspire you or your network to push boundaries and become involved in our communities, please connect with me. I offer a range of services including: readings, workshops, courses, or multidisciplinary performances/installations. I look forward to hearing from you!

Sehba Sarwar Art Car
Front hood of art car, Digital Meets Pakistani Truck Art, featuring stickers of buraq images from Karachi; photo by Burnell McCray