TRYST #2: A RITUAL IN X MOVEMENTS
Artist Allie Wist and I collaborated for Montez Press' TRYST Series for the book A Ritual in X Movements, exploring the interesections of food, memory, and ritual. A gesture toward the potential of unity, trust, and political and artistic dialectics, each installment of TRYST asks one visual artist and one writer to bring their unique perspectives to the table, letting their views and voices meet, marry, clash, and ultimately coalesce into an integrated and multifaceted work.
Through photo and text, Allie and I explore food memories, rituals, and tradition. How does food concretize memory, serve to invent meaning, or aid in cultural or personal nostalgia?
MY SHADOW IS A WORD WRITING ITSELF ACROSS TIME
I wrote a poem for a video project by the wonderful artist Gazelle Samizay, based on her footage of Manzanar, one of ten Japanese-American concentration camps in the US. Manzanar has been the site of multiple oppressions, including the forced removal of 1,000 Paiute Indians to make way for farmers and ranchers in 1863, and forcing ranchers and miners to relocate when the City of Los Angeles purchased the water rights to the area in 1929. The landscape is also eerily reminiscent of Afghanistan--the mountains against the open blue sky, the dry earth, but also the landscape of forgetting.
We are not trying to make equivalences between the experience of Japanese Americans held in concentration camps in the US and the threat of holding Muslim Americans (beyond what's already happened/been happening from Guantanamo to post-9-11 detentions and interrogations of Muslims based on entrapment or no evidence of unlawful activity, etc.). Nor are we trying to equate the horrors of Manzanar with the horrors of the American War in Afghanistan. I would say that the images of the Manzanar site brought to mind the Afghan landscape in many ways, both physically, and also the ways in which the ongoing occupation there has become this forgotten spectre much in the same way that the history of Japanese American internment is not one that we are confronted with regularly, least of all in mainstream news or in our public schools. And, also, the rhetoric of isolating or banning a group of people based on a shared ethnic or religious identity as has been proposed in the Muslim Ban was also evocative of the the fear-mongering during WW2. Again, not to equate or diminish or whitewash (or brownwash for that matter) any of the history of Japanese American concentration camps and discrimination and racism, but more as an exploration of how history is disappeared from public consciousness and that, as a matter of course, we never learn from nor avoid repeating it.
Also, what came out of the research we began doing was very telling of a longer history of American oppression and disappearance of non-white groups. By which I mean the history of the land of Manzanar... and how the original Paiute tribe was displaced and the water diverted from them in the Valley to thirsty, urban, wealthy Los Angeles, etc....
Layers upon layers... and echoes upon echoes...
OF SOIL AND TONGUES
My dear friend and the stellar artist Laimah Osman and I collaborated on two series of monoprints based on my poetry for a 2017 show at Hampshire College Art Gallery called Of Soil and Tongues. The exhibit brought together 3 alums, including Miatta Kawinzi and lê thi diem thúy, to consider poetry in three-dimensional space--as a heard, performed, read, graphic, and embodied medium.
“Gates” is a series of three monoprints drawing on my poem of the same name, which explores themes of immigration and identity. The prints are rendered in a style reminiscent of classical illuminated manuscripts in Persian. The lines play with the Farsi/Dari diacritical marks "zabar," [above] "zeyr," [below] and "peysh," [before] which denote short vowel sounds corresponding to "ah," "eh," and "oh." The Farsi/Dari alphabet (based on the Arabic script) is an Abjad, or an alphabet where not all vowel sounds are represented in writing, but only long vowels and diphthongs. One often only encounters these diacritics in children's books and language learning material to guide the learner in pronunciation. As artists born into Dari, losing our mother tongue through forced migration, learning English as a new language, and re-encountering Dari as adults via English in the US, we were interested in ideas of language ghosted by war and loss, unrepresented sounds, and the labor of learning and retaining a language, including one’s native tongue.
“Salaam Alaikum” is a series of monoprints drawing lines from my eponymous poem, which is concerned with how daily greetings take on new tenor in times of war. Here, greetings in Dari are layered with transliterations in English. Lines from the poem are in conversation with the meaning of the greetings. For example, “manda nabasheyn” is an expression of welcome that literally translates to “may you not be tired.” Whereas the full poem takes a dark turn with the arrival of war, in these excerpts we are interested in the interchange and play of languages, hand stenciled shapes, and colors—meeting, caressing, layering, as our languages do for each of us.
THE WONDER OF BEING SEVERAL | زیبایی چندین بودن
I collaborated with artist Sarah Saltzman on this handmade book. It is a celebration of—an adoration for—the beauty of Dari, one of the languages spoken in Afghanistan. Dari is filled with compound words: two or more words combined to create a new meaning. In Dari, these constructions have an uncommonly poetic flavor. A bat is a leather butterfly, a turtle a stone frog. Out of disparate images a new hybrid is born. And so, we simultaneously celebrate the compound: the wonder of being several.
KUNDIMAN POSTCARD EXCHANGE
Every year, Kundiman, an organization dedicated to the creation and cultivation of Asian American creative writing, offers a postcard exchange among its fellows. You write a postcard poem/story each day for a month to a fellow writer. The theme for 2017 was Because We Come From Everything: Poetry & Migration. We wrote and mail postcard poems highlighting the theme of migration.