Personal Statement: Sehba Sarwar, VBB Artistic Director, writer and multidisciplinary artist
Artist: Sehba Sarwar
Three years ago, I took a day trip with my sister Beena Sarwar to Sehwan Sharif in rural Sindh. I’d always wanted to visit the shrines in Sindh and my 2008-09 explorations were part of my VBB research project Pakistan Live Broadcast, which then evolved into living room art productions, shows that juxtaposed the cultures and histories of my home city Karachi to life in Houston, where I’m based right now.
Sehwan Sharif is about five hours from Karachi and the small town is home to the Sufi shrine dedicated to Lal Shahbaz Kalandar, one of the most revered saints in the subcontinent. Songs dedicated to him have been sung by singers such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Abida Parveen and Tina Sani, who are from Sindh and from other regions. The biggest anthem to Lal Shahbaz Kalandar, “Dum a Dum Must Kalandar”, is written in Punjabi and known to everyone in the region. I grew up knowing the song but not much else about Lal Shahbaz Kalandar or Sufi culture.
Beena and I traveled during Moharrum, and thanks to our host, we were able to witness the procession, the food center where the homeless and needy were fed and we also visited the shrine. The footage displayed in From Our Interior was shot at the shrine and at the procession. In Sehwan, drumming and music are part of the culture, and since for Third Worlds: Third Ward/Karachi we were exploring connections to Houston’s Third Ward, I used footage that connected to the drumming that Robert Pruitt had captured for his sound installation—a sound that Third Ward residents are so accustomed to hearing (something I didn’t know about before we began the project).
For the collage, From Our Interior, I also wove in footage from a summer 2011 experience in Karachi when my daughter was taking music classes at Karachi’s Indus School of Music. One day that summer, there was violence in a segment of Karachi. But since, violence is a common recurrance in Karachi, and often doesn’t affect all parts of the city, we still took Minal to class, thinking that her school would be open. But when we got there, we learned that classes had been cancelled for the day—because of public transportation being disrupted, the whole city was shut down. But since kids had been dropped off prior to cancellation, the program director and some of the teachers were watching students as their parents wove their way back to the school. To pass time, the program director was singing and teaching drumming, while other music teachers participated with their instruments. I happened to have my Flip camera with me and was able to capture footage. The song that I selected for this collage video is dedicated to Lal Shahbaz Kalandar, “Dum a Dum Must Kalandar”.
A final piece of the collage is a poem I wrote, dedicated to that morning, where somehow my experience of January 2009, summer 2011 and my experiences in Karachi were interwoven. I’m still not sure whether I like the poem as script or whether the text should be used as a voice recording. But for the installation, Third Worlds: Third Ward/Karachi, the piece worked better just as text, since the video was played in the driveway in combination with drumming in the backyard.
A side note about my video collage is that Ahsan Bari became involved in VBB’s productions because he was one of Minal’s teachers—and he participated in the improvisational music that’s used in this video.
—Sehba Sarwar, “From Our Interior”
ABOUT THE ARTIST:
SEHBA SARWAR (KARACHI, SINDH / HOUSTON) is a writer and multidisciplinary artist. Born and raised in Pakistan, she is based in Houston, and her writings have appeared in anthologies, newspapers, and magazines in India, Pakistan, South Korea, and the US, and her videos have been screened in India, Pakistan, Egypt and the US. Sarwar serves as VBB’s artistic/founding director and produces VBB living room art shows.