Sehba Sarwar spent the first half of her life in a home filled with artists, activists, and educators in Karachi, Pakistan, where she was born and raised. While based in Houston, Texas, for more than two decades, she started a social justice arts organization that collapses borders and brings communities together and is the recipient of multiple National Endowment for the Arts awards. Sarwar’s stories, essays, and poems straddle South Asia and the US and have appeared in anthologies, newspapers, and magazines in Canada, India, Pakistan, South Korea, and the US in publications including The New York Times’ Sunday Magazine, Asia: Magazine of Asian Literature, Callaloo and elsewhere. In 2019, a second edition of her novel Black Wings will be released (Veliz Books), while her short story, “Railway Track,” will appear in Houston Noir (Akashic Books). Sarwar’s video collages have been screened in Egypt, India, Pakistan, and the US; she has also created a large body of site-specific art installations. Her papers are archived at the University of Houston’s Library. Currently, Sarwar is based in Los Angeles, California, with her Chicano husband and their teenage daughter from where she writes, teaches, and creates art. (Photo courtesy sehbasarwar.com)
On Belonging & Other Poems
we are fish
She heats oil
a found poem
feet on red earth
This “found poem” contains words and phrases that were extracted from 34 out of 500 cards that were completed by anonymous respondents in six cities around the US (Austin, Boston, El Paso, Houston, Los Angeles, and McAllen). Photos of some of these cards, and more details on the On Belonging project are featured below:
About Sehba Sarwar’s On Belonging project
In 2016, Sehba Sarwar was commissioned by the Menil Collection (Houston) to create a performance to complement international artist Mona Hatoum’s exhibition Terra Infirma at the Menil. Sarwar’s On Belonging premiered in February 2018 with two live performances and an installation that featured a tree wrapped with ajrak fabric on which Sarwar exhibited 75 of the more than 500 cards she has been collecting since October 2017. As of May 2018, participants have completed cards in cities around the USA, including Boston, El Paso, Los Angeles, and more. Participants’ mothers were born in countries including Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, France, Mexico, Pakistan, Thailand, USSR, and USA. Fewer than 50 participants reside in the same city as where their mothers were born.
Sarwar began On Belonging (previously called What Is Home?) in 2012 during her two-year artist residency at the Mitchell Center for the Arts (University of Houston) for which she was awarded a Mid-America Arts Alliance’s 2014 Artistic Innovations grant. Sarwar’s project includes: storytelling workshops for documented, undocumented, and refugee youth and women; a blog showcasing conversations with community members, artists, family members; and reflections, and multidisciplinary productions (installations and performances).