Photo by Mahwash Rahman
Multidisciplinary artist and writer, Sehba Sarwar was raised in Karachi, Pakistan, in a home filled with artists, activists and educators. Inspired by her parents, she founded Voices Breaking Boundaries (VBB) an alternative arts organization that tackles social justice issues.
Over the past three decades, Sarwar has generated poetry, essays, short-stories, a novel, blog entries, performance, and time-based visual art installations. Her writings have appeared in publications and online in And The World Changed (Feminist Press, New York), The New York Times’ Sunday Magazine, Callaloo, Vallum Contemporary Poetry, Creative Time Reports, Dawn Books & Authors, ASIA: Magazine of Asian Literature, Houston Chronicle, and more, while her first novel, Black Wings, was published in 2004 (Alhamra Publishing, Pakistan). Sarwar’s video collages have been screened in Pakistan, India, Egypt and the United States, and she has created a broad spectrum of time-based art installations for Voices Breaking Boundaries’ living room art installations, including an award-winning art car.
Sarwar’s most recent creation, Borderlines, is a flagship VBB program that forges connections between North America and South Asia through the generation of art production and publications featuring literary and visual art, while her What Is Home? project was awarded a 2014-15 Mid-America Arts Alliance Artist Innovation grant. Recipient of three Houston Arts Alliance Individual Artist Awards, Sarwar served as artist-in-residence at University of Houston's Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts.
Alongside her artistic practice, Sarwar has offered readings and talks at campuses around the US and Pakistan at Fatima Jinnah Women’s College (Islamabad), Government College (Lahore), Karachi University (Karachi), University of Texas (Austin), Duke University (Durham, NC), El Paso Community College (El Paso), George Washington University (Washington DC), Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisburg, VA), Portland State University (Portland, OR) and more. As visiting writer and adjunct faculty member at Writers in the Schools, Inprint Inc, the University of Houston, and other groups, Sarwar has led long-term writing and performance art workshops for all ages ranging from kindergarten to community to college.
An active member of the community, Sarwar has served on the board of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, Friends of Women’s Studies University of Houston, was scholar-in-residence at Rice University’s Center for Women, Gender and Sexuality (2012-16), and has participated in panels with the Ford Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts. From 2002-2008, Sarwar was co-host of a weekly show at Houston’s Pacifica Radio Station KPFT 90.1 FM through which she interviewed Houston-based artists as well as celebrities including Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, and Patti Smith.
A member of Macondo Writers Workshop and the American Leadership Forum, Sarwar uses her trademark talent for deftly translating experiences into thought-provoking, relatable words and images in her blog where she documents the multiple realities she inhabits as writer, artist, mother, activist and transnational.
Sarwar is currently based in Southern California from where she produces writing and art, offers workshops, and continues to lead VBB. To listen to her 2013 TEDxHouston talk, please click here; and to view images from her recent productions, click here.