curated harvest of art science māyā

Home. In my heart, beating so far away.

 

It was five o’clock in the morning. I stood outside The Roosevelt Hotel on forty fifth street in Manhattan, breathing, smiling, feeling invincible. A homeless guy asked me for a cigarette, cursed at me and walked away. I remember thinking how strange it was that I didn’t feel scared or overwhelmed. I knew then that I belonged. It was liberating.

After just having travelled for thirty-six hours, I was rattled. I wanted a bed, a warm cozy bed. This was the first time I had left home and in that moment, I wanted nothing more than my own bedroom. Instead I was escorted to my hotel room. My father called right as I was trying to sleep to shake off the jet lag. Worried, he asked me, “Are you okay? Did someone use your credit card? Where are you?” “It’s the security deposit Baba”. I told him. You have to remember there is a ten-hour time difference between Lahore and New York. His concern was endearing.

 

  Like the Wind Flying    

Like the Wind Flying

 

  Boarded Windows   Finishing Khaled Hosseini’s, “The Kite Runner” on the plane was not a smart decision. It made me miss my parents, and home, the obscure skies of Lahore and the crows cawing. Looking out the window, I was overcome with sadness (and jubilation) as I thought about what I was about to do.  At twenty-six, I had defied all rules I was supposed to follow, the rules which would have made me a “good eastern girl”. I was not married and settled, I was opinionated and didn’t hold my tongue back and I was the first female in the history of my family, both paternal and maternal, who had left home to come to the States to pursue her dreams.  

Boarded Windows

Finishing Khaled Hosseini’s, “The Kite Runner” on the plane was not a smart decision. It made me miss my parents, and home, the obscure skies of Lahore and the crows cawing. Looking out the window, I was overcome with sadness (and jubilation) as I thought about what I was about to do.  At twenty-six, I had defied all rules I was supposed to follow, the rules which would have made me a “good eastern girl”. I was not married and settled, I was opinionated and didn’t hold my tongue back and I was the first female in the history of my family, both paternal and maternal, who had left home to come to the States to pursue her dreams.
 

  Death of A Dream   That was a decade ago. It is a different story today.  I do not feel as invincible as I did then. The invulnerability came from living in a place where you walk a block and see people from ten different ethnicities, where you do not notice how different you look, where you can be whoever you are and no one bats an eye. I had a sense of belonging then, a familial feeling that has dissipated and a cultural reference that has disappeared. When I lived in the City, I was captivated with how it had the power to make one feel invisible and how that could be both, isolating and freeing. The invisibility, where everyone in the train is either looking at their phone screens intensely or staring into space from behind their dark glasses, is alienating. But the kind invisibility that turns to anonymity, where you can feel lost in the crowd, is liberating. I search for the latter.   I search for a place where I am not eliminating my identity. Where I can be South Asian Muslim, and no one cares what my skin color is. Because why should it matter? Where I am not rear-ended and asked if I even have insurance. Because shouldn’t I get an apology instead of ignorance? Where I can walk without fear. Because there aren’t ever increasing limitations on who I am. Where no bans are imposed on Muslims. Because why should my mother be scared to apply for her visa to come see me? Where I am not detained and questioned every single time that I leave or enter the States. Where my baby’s bag is not turned upside down during the “special search”. Where there are no random checks just because I am a Muslim. Where my green passport is not a threat. Where I feel free. Where others like me are not scared to be photographed. Where I am me and not the image they have of me.   

Death of A Dream

That was a decade ago. It is a different story today.  I do not feel as invincible as I did then. The invulnerability came from living in a place where you walk a block and see people from ten different ethnicities, where you do not notice how different you look, where you can be whoever you are and no one bats an eye. I had a sense of belonging then, a familial feeling that has dissipated and a cultural reference that has disappeared. When I lived in the City, I was captivated with how it had the power to make one feel invisible and how that could be both, isolating and freeing. The invisibility, where everyone in the train is either looking at their phone screens intensely or staring into space from behind their dark glasses, is alienating. But the kind invisibility that turns to anonymity, where you can feel lost in the crowd, is liberating. I search for the latter. 

I search for a place where I am not eliminating my identity. Where I can be South Asian Muslim, and no one cares what my skin color is. Because why should it matter? Where I am not rear-ended and asked if I even have insurance. Because shouldn’t I get an apology instead of ignorance? Where I can walk without fear. Because there aren’t ever increasing limitations on who I am. Where no bans are imposed on Muslims. Because why should my mother be scared to apply for her visa to come see me? Where I am not detained and questioned every single time that I leave or enter the States. Where my baby’s bag is not turned upside down during the “special search”. Where there are no random checks just because I am a Muslim. Where my green passport is not a threat. Where I feel free. Where others like me are not scared to be photographed. Where I am me and not the image they have of me. 
 

  Something to Do   Imagine a situation where you are unable to go see your parents for two years. What would that feel like? What if your grandchild cannot come visit you as the visa was denied? Think about standing outside the visa officer’s window, gripping your file tightly and praying you don’t get rejected stamped across your passport so you can attend your child’s graduation. What if you were a perceived threat? Picture yourself not being able to enter a country after having travelled for two days.  Can you visualize it? Close your eyes for a second and reflect. 

Something to Do

Imagine a situation where you are unable to go see your parents for two years. What would that feel like? What if your grandchild cannot come visit you as the visa was denied? Think about standing outside the visa officer’s window, gripping your file tightly and praying you don’t get rejected stamped across your passport so you can attend your child’s graduation. What if you were a perceived threat? Picture yourself not being able to enter a country after having travelled for two days.  Can you visualize it? Close your eyes for a second and reflect. 

  No Coincidental Escape.   Much has changed in the last ten years. I came to U.S. single and went back home married. While in Pakistan, I had to relearn a different way of living. And just when I was beginning to get comfortable, it was time for me to leave and return to a new home. Leaving the familiar behind was hard, very hard. I moved to Ohio, then from Ohio, moved to Arkansas and from there to the Upper Peninsula. There is a finality about leaving your old life behind in hopes of a new life. You exist in two places simultaneously and are in a perpetual state of feeling incomplete. I have lived in the States for long and am deeply conscious of how dissimilar my way of thinking and seeing is, compared to those who were born here. This difference always strikes me as profound. Stranger yet is how I feel like a visitor when I go back home.   

No Coincidental Escape.

Much has changed in the last ten years. I came to U.S. single and went back home married. While in Pakistan, I had to relearn a different way of living. And just when I was beginning to get comfortable, it was time for me to leave and return to a new home. Leaving the familiar behind was hard, very hard. I moved to Ohio, then from Ohio, moved to Arkansas and from there to the Upper Peninsula.
There is a finality about leaving your old life behind in hopes of a new life. You exist in two places simultaneously and are in a perpetual state of feeling incomplete. I have lived in the States for long and am deeply conscious of how dissimilar my way of thinking and seeing is, compared to those who were born here. This difference always strikes me as profound. Stranger yet is how I feel like a visitor when I go back home. 
 

  Looking Down and Back   As I have moved within diverse range of cultures, changing homes, I have remained the only constant. The other constants can neither be seen nor photographed. How do I take a picture of all the people I miss who are oceans away? How do I record images of the things I am forgetting or cannot see? How can a camera see the missing pieces of my culture?  Over the years, these self- portraits have changed and taken many forms. Sometimes it’s a picture of me. Or it’s the light cascading through the window. Or my son appears in these images, and other times it’s the impression I leave behind on an unmade bed. I follow the light, to find the light. The images document and dedicate themselves to expanding definitions of identity, family and home.

Looking Down and Back

As I have moved within diverse range of cultures, changing homes, I have remained the only constant. The other constants can neither be seen nor photographed. How do I take a picture of all the people I miss who are oceans away? How do I record images of the things I am forgetting or cannot see? How can a camera see the missing pieces of my culture?

Over the years, these self- portraits have changed and taken many forms. Sometimes it’s a picture of me. Or it’s the light cascading through the window. Or my son appears in these images, and other times it’s the impression I leave behind on an unmade bed. I follow the light, to find the light. The images document and dedicate themselves to expanding definitions of identity, family and home.

  Unfamiliar, A Hope   

Unfamiliar, A Hope
 

  A Number, Not A Name   My son’s fascination with snakes has taught me a lot. Did you know that snakes shed their skin periodically to allow for further growth and to get rid of parasites that may have gotten attached to their old skin? We as humans shed our skins too but it is an ongoing process and rarely noticed. What if we were able to shed our skin like the snakes? Would we be able to shed our problems away with the skin? And our fears? Would we be liberated by shrugging off the old skin?   This snake’s skin shedding process reminds me of all the times we change roles to become someone else. I have been a mother, a daughter, a lover, a wife, a sister, a divorcee. With each role, I lose a bit of myself. This past year was a year of losses for me. There was loss of self, of love, of life, of family, of religion, of identity, of freedom, of home. Coping with loss is a deeply personal process. For me, it has brought a new self out from under the old skin. A self that is not scared.  

A Number, Not A Name

My son’s fascination with snakes has taught me a lot. Did you know that snakes shed their skin periodically to allow for further growth and to get rid of parasites that may have gotten attached to their old skin? We as humans shed our skins too but it is an ongoing process and rarely noticed. What if we were able to shed our skin like the snakes? Would we be able to shed our problems away with the skin? And our fears? Would we be liberated by shrugging off the old skin?
 
This snake’s skin shedding process reminds me of all the times we change roles to become someone else. I have been a mother, a daughter, a lover, a wife, a sister, a divorcee. With each role, I lose a bit of myself. This past year was a year of losses for me. There was loss of self, of love, of life, of family, of religion, of identity, of freedom, of home. Coping with loss is a deeply personal process. For me, it has brought a new self out from under the old skin. A self that is not scared.
 

   When are you coming back?

When are you coming back?

   Why Do They Get to Decide?

Why Do They Get to Decide?

  The Morning Routine   In 2007, when I left home, I left against all odds. I left because I did not want to be defined by who I married. I left to escape the social pressures and the assumptions.  I left to be on my own, to not be judged for being outspoken and opinionated. To not be labeled and stereotyped. How ironic to have moved to U.S chasing that freedom and actually lose it? The things that I ran away from, are the things that define me now. My identity is reduced to a fixed clichéd image.   Questions, I have many questions. Did I do the right thing to leave? To be here and be labeled? Was I successful in escaping the stereotypes? Is the American dream still based on equality?  Immigrants everywhere leave their lives behind, forever. I did the same. I left behind my home, full of love, even with all its flaws. I am not here, and not there. Like a pendulum, I swing, constantly looking back. Searching, for a life that was and a life that will be, searching for the unknowable. I am continually shifting, finding new ways of negotiating my identity, of understanding the changing ideologies and new perspectives.   

The Morning Routine

In 2007, when I left home, I left against all odds. I left because I did not want to be defined by who I married. I left to escape the social pressures and the assumptions.  I left to be on my own, to not be judged for being outspoken and opinionated. To not be labeled and stereotyped. How ironic to have moved to U.S chasing that freedom and actually lose it? The things that I ran away from, are the things that define me now. My identity is reduced to a fixed clichéd image. 

Questions, I have many questions. Did I do the right thing to leave? To be here and be labeled? Was I successful in escaping the stereotypes? Is the American dream still based on equality? 
Immigrants everywhere leave their lives behind, forever. I did the same. I left behind my home, full of love, even with all its flaws. I am not here, and not there. Like a pendulum, I swing, constantly looking back. Searching, for a life that was and a life that will be, searching for the unknowable. I am continually shifting, finding new ways of negotiating my identity, of understanding the changing ideologies and new perspectives. 
 

  Don’t Tell Me to Be Strong    When meeting somebody for the first time, the brain goes into overdrive for a few seconds to swiftly form a first impression. Whether we like it or not, rapid assumptions are made based on gender, race, religion, age, culture, physical appearance, the surrounding environment - all things that help form who we are, real or perceived. When people meet me for the first time, they tend to assume, and they assume wrong.   

Don’t Tell Me to Be Strong


When meeting somebody for the first time, the brain goes into overdrive for a few seconds to swiftly form a first impression. Whether we like it or not, rapid assumptions are made based on gender, race, religion, age, culture, physical appearance, the surrounding environment - all things that help form who we are, real or perceived. When people meet me for the first time, they tend to assume, and they assume wrong. 
 

  They Will Not Frisk Me    I invite you, to see these images without a predetermined perception. My photographs act like mirrors. They are based very directly on the way things appear, if just for a moment, but never without their own distortions. You will get glimpses of a continually evolving narrative but the images don’t give away the full account. How could they? It is on you to find the veiled stories.   

They Will Not Frisk Me


I invite you, to see these images without a predetermined perception. My photographs act like mirrors. They are based very directly on the way things appear, if just for a moment, but never without their own distortions. You will get glimpses of a continually evolving narrative but the images don’t give away the full account. How could they? It is on you to find the veiled stories. 
 

  I Am Erasing Them Little by Little, Just Like Myself

I Am Erasing Them Little by Little, Just Like Myself