By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Pasadena Weekly Executive Editor
Sehba Sarwar finished her site-specific installation, “On Belonging,” and felt a sense of pride.
The pieces celebrated her individual artist award for 2019-20 from Pasadena’s Cultural Affairs Division.
“My focus was on migration, movement and displacement,” she said.
“On Belonging” was slated to be displayed from Friday, Oct. 8, to Monday, Oct. 25, in Memorial Park, 85 E. Holly Street; McDonald Park, 1000 Mountain Street; and Victory Park, 2575 Paloma Street.
It came to an abrupt halt.
The McDonald Park piece was stolen, while the Memorial Park installation was damaged within hours.
The project was funded in part by Pasadena Arts & Culture Commission and Pasadena’s Cultural Affairs Division and co-sponsored by Armory Center for the Arts.
Five trees were draped with an indigo and red block-printed cloth known as an ajrak that Sarwar brought to the United States from Sindh, her home province in Pakistan.
“This material cannot be replaced,” she said. “It was so awful. I received a call from the Armory that it was damaged at Memorial Park by a woman who was upset that I was spoiling things for the birds and squirrels.
“Nobody has been able to identify her. We have a suspicious of who she is. There was a woman walking around when we were reinstalling on Friday. It’s just so confusing for everybody.”
“On Belonging” features text and drawings by Pasadena community members as well as students from Pasadena and Blair high schools.
The cards reflect their answers to her question on “Where they found comfort and a sense of belonging during the pandemic.” In addition, Sarwar had participants note the location of their mother’s or direct relative’s birth and discovered many were from other countries.
“The one at McDonald Park was a shocker,” Sarwar said. “McDonald had the most magnificent tree. The city parks department said this is the best tree for your installation, and they were right.”
When she was informed about the stolen piece, she visited the spot and it was “like I had never been there.”
“It was like we had not spent five hours climbing up on ladders and hammering into ground,” Sarwar said. “The only thing remaining was my sign explaining what the project was. This was only 22 hours later. I did not document it when I left on Saturday, Oct. 2. I thought, ‘It was getting dark, and it’ll be here tomorrow. It’s going to be up for three weeks.’”
Sarwar said her installation wasn’t damaging anything. She filed a police report on Oct. 3. Anyone with information is asked to call the Pasadena Police Department at 626-744-4241.
“It was an elaborate process,” Sarwar explained. “I had been working on this for a year. I was collecting cards during the pandemic. You can understand how difficult that is.
“While I was installing it at McDonald Park, it was frequented by community members. People asked, ‘What are you doing? It’s gorgeous.’
“It’s irreplaceable. People put their heart into it. It was a documentation of what the community endured and experienced during the pandemic — high school students, little kids, people of all backgrounds. It’s something that showed the diversity of this landscape. It’s just gone.”