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Voices Breaking Boundaries

Living Room Art: Sehba Sarwar looks outside the galleries to create art block parties

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Solkem N'Gangbet, program director at the Houston Museum of African American Culture Photo by Eric Hester
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Living Room Art Productions spill out of the host residence, drawing attendees into back yards and front porches. VBB on-site artist, M'Kina Tapscott performs at the right side of the photo. Photo by Eric Hester
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Marcela Descalzi performs at October's "Third Worlds: Part I" The second half of the event will be staged Saturday, Nov. 5. Photo by Eric Hester
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Artist and co-curator Autumn Knight stands behind two young attendees Photo by Eric Hester
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"The Living Room Art events began without me even realizing it," Voices Breaking Boundaries founding director Sehba Sarwar tells CultureMap about her organization's popular recurring production — a roving multidisciplinary project exploring cultural parallels between South Asia and Houston.

"When I moved to Texas, I started inviting artist friends to my house to perform and discuss their work," she says. "One day it occurred to me I was recreating these salons my parents organized when I was growing up in Pakistan. I've just modified the idea to include a variety of cultures."

Each living room event is held at a private residence and open to the public. Performances and installations spill out onto the street, creating a type of freeform art-oriented block party. Voices Breaking Boundaries organizers often roam the immediate area, inviting neighbors and passers-by.

 Performances and installations spill out onto the street, creating a type of freeform art-oriented block party. 

Co-created by Sarwar and noted Houston artist Robert Pruitt, this season's project, entitled "Third Worlds," explores artistic and social connections between Karachi and the Third Ward. The first part of the production, which took place Oct. 22 at two Third Ward residences, featured story telling, music and performance art from scores of Pakistani and Houstonian artists. On Saturday night, part two will reexamine the themes that surfaced during the first production with new performances and documentary material.

Trained as a journalist, Sarwar grew up in Karachi, the daughter of two prominent educators and social activists. After relocating to Houston with her husband in the 1990s, she founded Voices Breaking Boundaries as a literary collective in 2000 with a small group of women writers and poets. Starting with a series of readings and talks at local bookstores, VBB now produces more than 10 events each year that showcase its continually-growing network of international artists, writers and performers.

Sarwar and VBB launched the first Living Room Art Production in 2006, expanding her casual art salons into a thematic neighborhood-based series that she herself researched and curated. With early events held in the East End, the First Ward and the Sixth Ward, Living Room Art has evolved into a project aiming to unearth lost cultural and personal histories. It explores how individuals can serve as catalysts for social change.

In the coming years, Sarwar said she hopes to organize similar salon projects in locales as varied as Mexico, India and Palestine.

On Saturday Nov. 5 at the home of Nusrat Malik (2418 Elgin St.), "Third Worlds: Part II" builds upon the artistic and cultural themes explored in October. Featured will be raw footage from an upcoming documentary by Yunuen Perez Vertti and new photographs by Eric Hester. Click here for more details.

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