“In. Out. In. Out.” Our story begins with me. Submerged. Silent. Still. Shhhh…An ephemeral ocean which exists in no place on earth. Where the tides are controlled by a mother’s mood. A pool of creation in which we all begin. I feel nothing but the the walls around me contracting and contorting with the body I reside in. “In. Out. In. Out.” The words vibrate in the air around me and send electric signals through my ear canals. I listen. I breathe. In. Out. I have been patiently waiting. Waiting for a moment of chaos to break the quiet and send ripples across the universe. The world has been waiting with me. A flash of light. The Big Bang. Boom. Technicolor streams of color stretch and bend the space around me. Flashing lights. Broken tv sets. Travelling faster than the speed of light and simultaneously going nowhere at all. White noise. Silence. Nothing.
Colors fade to white and the walls around me open up like freshly bloomed flowers. White walls. White room. White gloves. The shock of birth begins to settle. The earth begins to shatter like the screen of an iPhone. A mother’s wail so sharp it pierces through my newborn skull and sends shivers down my spine. Hands. Probing. Poking. Testing. I realize my own shrill, voice has replaced my mother’s. The doctors repeat. Breathe. In. Out.
I am melting into my mother’s arms. Everything else turns to static and I am floating weightlessly in her warmth. Sunshine. My father signs off on my birth certificate. Devin Hanif Khan.
Breathe. Everything runs back in reverse. The doctors rip the child out of the mother’s arms. Cold. The stains of afterbirth rise up from the sink and slide itself back onto the newborn’s body. Sticky. The doctors scramble around the room in retrograde. Chaos. The umbilical cord is reattached. Screams fill the room in a incoherent pile of noise. My body reverts back to a state of silence.
Colors zip by. Zooming. Flashing. The Big Bang. Boom. Bombs bursting in a distance. The year is 1940. World War II rages on. Amidst the chaos stands Hanif Ousman Khan. The youngest man in Burma to take on the status of Captain. Son of Yacoub Khan. Three mothers. One of twelve of the most beautiful children in Afghanistan. One for each hour of the day. Born Hanif but referred to as Henry. A walking symbol of the British Imperialism that grows like a tumor and infects the planet like cancer. Hanif walks among war torn lands tainted by xenophobia, hate, and persecution. Blood drips from his psyche but does not stain his heart. At the age of 24 he meets a girl. Breathe. In. Out. Her name was Violet.
Violence. Like a Phoenix, she emerges from the rubble of a broken family. Step Back. Rewind. Profile of Edward Caulfield. New York born. Happily married. Six kids. A nice home. The American Dream. Scratch that. Edward Caulfield wanted more. Needed more. A thirst for oil lingered in the back of his brain. And so did another woman. They say the call of sirens is irresistible to the ears of men. Mai San May was the Siren of Burma. Her song could be heard from across the seas and Edward listened. At the age of 40 he left his home, his wife, his family behind and in a daze becomes the 28th immigrant to enter Burma. In Rangoon, his sirens await. His oil business blossoms. And so does May. He has come home. Elegant songs of beauty and longing slowly turn into cries of creation. Screeching. Screaming. Smiling. A beautiful baby girl is born. Her name is Violet.
Fast forward 16 years. “The British are coming! The British are coming!” They are already here. Oil fields across Burma light up like sparklers on Fourth of July. Britain has set fire to the country’s soft spot. In an instant an oil empire burns down like a cigarette on a windy day. Edward finds himself fleeing once again. Though he is not following the sounds of Sirens but is seeking clear air for his new family. He finds solace in India. Two months pass. With his oil fields Edward Caulfield’s flame burns out. He dies in India. Maybe it was the stress. Maybe it was the guilt. Violet believed he was just tired. And so was she. In her time in India Violet picks up a job as a map charter to aid in World War II. She is fierce. A rebel. A force to be reckoned with. A goddess among men.
In. Out. The breeze blows through the palms carrying the scent of the Irriwaddy river along its back. Mangos and papaya are fresh in the air. The sunlight glows on every leaf in crystalline shades of green. Hanif has fallen deep in love and so did the world around him. A love stronger than that of Edward and Mai San May. One stronger than even the bond between Odysseus and Penelope. A love that drenches the world in a golden haze and shimmers in the sun. Violet and Hanif lived their life in a constant honeymoon. The summer breeze blew once more and with it a Khan was born.
- With the birth of Daryl Khan brought one of the strongest monsoon seasons Rangoon had seen. His birth would cause the fall of an empire. The trees melted in the wind. The Irriwaddy drowned the surrounding streets. The gods stood from the clouds toying with the humans below. For six months the storms raged on. In those six months Hanif Khan would face its wrath. Hanif became tied down by the politics of his nation. Burma had become a country filled with xenophobic hate. The very thing he served to fight against. It ate away at his mind like a maggot eating away at a corpse. As his son began to crawl, Hanif became the key witness to the assassination of Burma’s leader. Take a breath. In. Out.
The date is January 20, 1962. Violet squeezed her daughter’s hand. Daryl and his brother followed closely behind. A sense of urgency suffocated the air. Violet, as her father did, was now fleeing her country. It was no longer her home. It never was. The minute she knew about her father she was searching for second family. Now that Burma was becoming overthrown she had nothing to hold her back. With $50 in her pocket and three mouths to feed she was on her way to America. Jet fuel paints the sky. People come. People go. Violet lands in America. Retracing her father’s footsteps the same way I have done through this narrative. She has landed. She has made it. A new start. Planes flew in and out in the sky above. Drifting. In. Out.
The monsoon winds whistle in the distance and Hanif walks home at night. Due to his testimony, the assassins have successfully been persecuted. He wanders the streets reveling in his accomplishment. A wind gust blows that cuts through the very air. Within the same breath he felt three distinct blades pierce his skin. In and out. In and out. In and out. Over and over the sloshing sound of ripping flesh begins to become repetitive and almost meditative. In. Out. Vision fades to black. Screens turn to static. Hanif’s son cries in the distance.
Go back. Back through the customs at the airport. Back through the humidity that sticks to your skin. Back through the very court case that killed Hanif. Step through the puddle of blood that rests next to his unconscious body. Back to the first day that Violet had laid her eyes on his deep brown gaze. Through the bursting oil explosions of Edward Caufield’s oil empire. Back through the war zones and bomb shelters. Up through Afghanistan. Back to The United States. Back to the beginning. Like the phases of the moon our story has come full circle. A baby is born. Breathe. In. Out. His name is Devin Hanif Khan and his birth would be the fall of an empire.
The title of this project is Hanif. This project consists of many parts, both mixed media, analog, and digital. In this project I explore my father’s side of my family, and more specifically focus on my grandfather, Hanif Khan who I get my middle name from.
My Dad immigrated to America from Burma when he was around nine years old and in doing so left a portion of his life. My father never really talked about his of the family and I never had much contact with them as a child. I had never known much about my father’s family so for this project I decided to explore my own family and map out my family tree. After interviewing my dad I condensed the story of my great grandparents, grandparents, my father, and ultimately myself into a finished narrative. This worked as the structure for the visuals and concept of my final project. Using old family photos, memorabilia, and washes of paint, I pieced together a visual story and map of my family history collaged on two separate canvasses. I then opened these images into photoshop and illustrator and created a diptych to convey the same narrative that I had written.
As a result from completing this project, I felt very satisfied with not only the outcome of the visual and written elements, but in the process of creating, I learned so much more about my own identity and my family. For me, this was the most valuable takeaway that I got in the process of creating. I was left with not only a series of work that had evolved and grew from each other but also gave me the chance to document a family history that had never been recorded. The process itself was one of discovery as well as a learning experience. For every creative element that went into the visuals, an equal amount of research and knowledge was required to do so. Something I found challenging was representing the story my father had told me in a way that was just as accurate visually. Ultimately I think I was successful in doing so, and in the process created a body of work that will document a personal experience.