The Borderlands of Belonging

The Borderlands of Belonging

Stoneware & Terracotta Clay
Size Variable

Based on my Feb 2019 TEDx talk ‘The Borderlands of Belonging’, this heuristic arts-based research study explored my experience as a Third Culture Kid (TCK), and my attempts to re-integrate my identity as an adult in a foreign land.

TCKs are individuals who have spent a significant portion of their formative years in countries or cultures other than that of their nationality, and often move between several such spaces in an ongoing state of liminality. This childhood of constant transition can impact their sense of belonging, creating hidden feelings of loss and rootlessness that affect the development of identity.

By exploring my own TCK journey, through art making, I hoped to inform my therapy work with others in the in-between, travelling through their own Borderlands of Belonging.

Thirty Times I Tried

Bisque-Fired & Unfired Clay
500cm x 80cm x 10cm

This process-driven work involved making 30 consecutive plates on the pottery wheel over several months, as I learnt the new skill. Each attempt was kept, regardless of their finished state – whether balled, broken or solid enough to be fired in the kiln.

When displayed together, the plates had a remarkable synchronicity with my life timeline, providing a safer and more abstract opportunity to externalise and (re)assemble a personal narrative of my lived TCK experience.

Laid out as if at a boarding school dinner table, the powerful metaphor of plates – both broken and whole – is used to examine the questions of early nourishment, holding and containment.

The Graveyard of Goodbyes

Digital Timelapse Video & Image Stills
3min 11sec (Loop)

During the process of making ‘Thirty Times I Tried’, all the clay leftovers from trimming each plate were collected and preserved. After a significant personal trip in early-2020, these broken pieces were finally let go of and recycled into fresh clay, by adding water.

Displayed here are a looped time-lapse video and photographic stills from this act of reconstitution, hinting at the hidden losses accumulated by TCKs and the slow process of the cycles of acculturation.

As a final form of reintegration, I had intended to fashion the recycled clay block into a large vessel on the pottery wheel, but this was interrupted by the COVID-19 shutdown of our communal art studio. As a result, the clay remains in its packaging, a symbol of potential space and liminality, and a question of grief, anger, and perhaps acceptance.

“…there is a problem with holding on to the past and memories… sometimes it is no longer an active way of building your identity, but more a thing that you hang on to because you’re afraid that, if you don’t, then you won’t understand what your identity is”

Larissa Sansour