Hi! My name is Nasreen Khan. I am the Manager of Communications for UUMFE, but in my life outside of UUMFE, I am a visual artist based in Indianapolis. I make art inspired by my relationship with the natural world.
I live in a neighborhood of Indianapolis called Haughville. It is one of the highest crime, lowest income neighborhoods in the city–but it is my home. This past winter, development on some low income housing started on the land along the river. While I am pleased that more accessible housing for humans is being built, I am also privy to the fact that this pushes out a whole host of non human lives who occupied that land. One of species that was displaced by development is coyotes. This resulted in one coyote in particular making a lot of visits to my backyard. I keep backyard chickens and in the middle of winter, my chickens were a tempting food source for my coyote friend. In our first encounter, he devoured one of my chickens under some bushes on the back tree line, but even after I moved my chickens to safer locales, he continued to use my bushes as his dining area. Over the course of the Winter months, I began to think of him as friend. My dog Ahab and I would sit on the back porch while Coyote munched his dinner across the yard, and I would talk to him. I know that our friendship was probably fairly one sided–and that my emotional attachment to him, probably wasn’t reciprocated in the same way-but nevertheless, it was meaningful to me and showed up in my initial sketches of this piece. So although the title uses wolves, the image is a coyote.
My art practice focuses on hyperlocal ecology and relationships. I use city trees that are blighted or otherwise slated for removal, and I cut them down with an arborist friend. I then mill them out into boards that dry at my studio for over 2 years before forming panels for pyrography/painting. The content of my work is drawn from my international childhood in both Senegal and Indonesia, and from the people and relationships that I hold sacred.
The landscape of Indianapolis (both politically and physically) was irrevocably changed by the Black Lives Matter protests a few years ago. I was one of the artists that painted murals on the boarded up windows of businesses during the protests as a way of reclaiming space, but also to communicate messages of hope and change. You can see that project here and here.
The 6th Wolf is a spiritual portrait of someone I love dearly. He is a Black man who works in the arts and grew up in a small Indiana town in the 70’s where he was often singled out for his race. In our conversations he has expressed that he feels he needs to be vigilant, to focus on warding off disaster before it could touch him-that disaster has come in the form of poverty, loss, racism, etc. And he often talks about the difficulty of existing in a body that is male, and Black in arts spaces.
The man in my painting has 5 Coyote friends standing alongside him, observing him, walking with him –but his attention necessarily is focused on the 6th one, the one that is angry and snarling. This is not meant as a critique but as an exploration in processing the narrative my friend expressed about a vigilance that can be exhausting but also necessary to survival.
My art practice is a meaning making tool to explore my thoughts about theology, race, environment, love and life as a whole. As you consider the narrative behind “The 6th Wolf” here are some prompt questions you can use to help meaning make in your own relationship to the natural world:
-How do you engage with local artists? How do they use natural materials?
-How can you come into a deeper relationship with your own identity, culture and Earth?
-How do you take your relationship with the natural world personally?
-Do you have a spiritual relationship with the greater-than-human world? Whose terms is that relationship on? How do you let go of control in those relationships?
-What do you notice about the intersectionality of racial and environmental justice in this piece?