Holding, Centering, Being: The many ways we live in the world.

Holding, Centering, Being: The many ways we live in the world.

Images and notes overwhelmed my various forms of media: I was flooded with New Zealand.
My heart was flooded, my being was flooded, and I knew, once again, we could not sink, but had to float.

Quietly float.

Unobtrusively float.

Since 9/11, I could no longer float with a voice.

And so I left it to those who were too young to know what it meant to have that voice stripped and to be disappeared. And I watched as it became clear that if we critique the state, we are made to be at fault by the state, no matter how relevant our critique is.

And so I was quiet, my eyes dry, and determined to float.

Thoughtfully float.

Rigorously float.

When people asked me what I thought about what happened in New Zealand, I said the links between settler colonialism and white supremacy are deep and will only erupt in erasure of racialized others because constitutive to these states is such violence.

And they said, we’re talking about Islamophobia. To which I responded, so am I.

One floats without tears and without protest and some of us only allow ourselves to float as an academic with reason.

Intellectual reason.

Disciplinary reason.

And then I saw Hassan Ghani’s twitter post:

And I cried. In these bodies, I saw the emotion and strength with the land, and how people I do not know, extended a fierce sense of solidarity, and in their movement, my tears were allowed to flow and found a place. I wanted to find out more about who these men were, websites claimed them as “biker gangs,” and then I found Robbie Shilliam’s response:

I realized that in their movement was a lesson of how to hold, center, and be in the face of erasure. It was a lesson of how to live in world.

In Robbie Shilliam’s tweet is also a link to his article, ‘The Polynesian Panthers and The Black Power Gang: Surviving Racism and Colonialism in Aotearoa New Zealand.’ This chapter links the histories of racism and colonialism by pointing to the global significance of settler colonialism for the further study of black power. Shilliam’s chapter moves through the history of settler colonialism and its impact on New Zealand, specifically indigenous communities through the violence of assimilation and labor. Perhaps most importantly, Shilliam talks through the links between settler colonialism and continued discrimination against racialized others:

Under settler colonialism, the dispossession of land from indigenous peoples and its genocidal effect exists prior to and parallel to the exploitation of peoples based on racial exclusion from and discrimination within the civic sphere. This means that in most societies born from settler colonialism there exists distinct – albeit intimately related – sedimentations of land dispossession and labour exploitation that form the uneven ground of white supremacist rule in thought and practice. (pg 2)

I thought about the video, and the ways by which the Mangu Kaha came, full of emotion, intentional movement, and made explicit the knowledge of how such violence has linked our bodies. There was something fierce about this emotion, something powerful, and something about how they held space for tears and love. The Mangu Kaha brought back together the dispersed, disposed of, and assimilated social contract that holds us all together through love for others. As Shilliam points out in the section on ‘Black Power as Family Survival’:

No where was this effect more concentrated than in the breaking up of the extended family organization (whanau) and the dissolution of its cardinal ethics of care (manaaki), compassion (aroha), and relational reciprocity (whanaungatanga). In the early 1970s Hana Jackson, a Māori activist, summed up this effect of urbanization and assimilation passionately and acutely: “you are killing the basic human nature of the people – love for others.” (pg. 13)

And I felt, through their movement, the love and honor for those who were killed in their sanctuary. The Mangu Kaha built solidarity and respect between communities that have been pitted against one another, and there is power in that connection.

Many immigrant communities are told by authorized discourses of the state that the Mangu Kaha are “criminals.” As immigrants struggle to assimilate and find themselves on new landscapes, the production of ignorance around indigenous communities reinstates narratives in the service of the state. This complicates a simple story of solidarity. I can only imagine what sorts of negotiations of being and belonging might be taking place within those communities as there is a recognition of similar treatment across different histories… and a recognition of self in other.

When faced with a crisis, my instinct is to go to sayings my grandmother may have told me. It’s been so many years of my doing that, so many years since she has left us, that I can no longer remember if these are her words or mine, or maybe her mothers, or maybe my mothers. It seems relevant, but not really, because in such forgetting, I recognize how wisdom is a layering of many memories, a meshing of different modes of knowing, and weaving generations of experience.

This is not me claiming to be wise, just me claiming to recognize the process.

She said/I said/we said, accumulating experiences is not what it’s about, it’s about how you hold and care for them (sambhalou – to care for), and how one does that determines how we understand what is happening. I did not need to accumulate more experiences, more images, more likes, more, more, more… but I needed to know what to do with whatever arrived at my threshold (chaukat). Last week, I spent a lot of time thinking of my grandmother and other matriarchs of my family who have recently passed — all with their own ways of holding, centering and being.  And each one of these women, immigrants moving through spaces of violence in search of whatever home could mean, creating homes for all of us, and leaving within us senses of home as they pass.

I was holding all of this yesterday as I walked into Ishara Art Foundation‘s inaugural show, Altered Inheritances: Home is a Foreign Place, which brought together works by Indian artists, Shipa Gupta and Zarina Hashimi. Although these works and shows (as titles) had been seen before, there was something about how they were held and centered in this space that, as Yaminay Chaudhri said, left us trembling. Bumping into the Artistic Director, Nada Raza at the show, I was breathless from emotion as I congratulated her. “The show curated itself,” she said, referring to the fact that the works and title itself emerged through bringing together both women’s cohesive bodies of work.  A show like this, however, is a beautiful example of when curating is not just about accumulation, but rather how aesthetics, experience, histories, senses of home are held and centered. The works themselves critically, mathematically, architecturally, poetically, politically, and emotionally held, centered and became a way to engage with how we belong.

home is of course here—and always a missed land.
–Land, Agha Shahid Ali

The poignancy of how this show began with Agha Shahid Ali‘s poetry was not lost. Shahid, a poet from Kashmir, yet another home – land split through the violence of the nation state, and its lines. A show featuring two Indian women, brought together by a Pakistani curator, starting off with a line from a Kashmiri poet — perhaps this is only possible in Dubai — for as long as none of them claim belonging to the Emirates. The sheer contingency of belonging, the terror of trying, the violence of it being stripped away, the fractured nature of being — all of it was on display as we walked through narratives of migration, lines across landscapes as territory, and the ways by which embodied senses of being and belonging emerged through the violence of the nation state.

The gallery became the homespace, the nationspace, and …space. I was caught in one of  Hashimi’s piece: a mass of stars, the constellations, the immense-ness that one can see when one looks up on a dark night from a courtyard, and I thought of the speculative and her capacity to make us dream beyond what is right in front of us. And then how she grounds us, in this case, with her caption Sitarou Say Agay Jahan Aur Bhi Hai — a famous line from Allama Iqbal’s poetry which I translate to “There are more worlds beyond the stars.”

Sitarou Say Agay Jahan Aur Bhi Hai. Zarina Hashimi, 2014

It is difficult to articulate the very fine line that Hashimi is treading here — it is simultaneously the recognition of utopia and dreamings of different kinds of future that Iqbal was alluding to in a pre-Partition (pre-1947) moment, while also drawing attention to how those dreams are what has led to violence and trauma in the nation state. It draws attention to how we have yet to dismantle the pain and suffering of the colonial state and how in this moment, we continue to replicate that same violence, exemplified by Gupta’s work in the show.

I left the show overwhelmed and a bit teary eyed. My visit and encounter with the work did not provide answers, but it did remind me of a larger context within which to hold and care for the trauma of knowing that a white supremacist could walk into a masjid and open fire on Jumma prayers. It gave me strength to pick up that information and feel the heft of knowing that he filmed it and put it on line to demonstrate to others how easy such a taking of life is, and it reminded me that when the world begins to hurt, we need to come together to take us beyond the information to the core of emotion — and I knew that as I moved into that space, I had the space to cry, and dream of different futures. And so, without any real answers, I, alongside others, will be with, hold and center the memory of the over 50 killed and 50 wounded in Christchurch, New Zealand. May you all rest in power and peace.


2 Replies to “Holding, Centering, Being: The many ways we live in the world.”

  1. Exquisite. Deeply felt, beautifully constructed, truth well told. Anthropology as poetry.