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Deciphering the process of self-location in displacement
Known to be at the forefront of rapidly evolving Indian contemporary art, Zarina Hashmi is also renowned as one of its top practitioners in the challenging medium of printmaking. She chronicles her life through recurring themes of home or homelessness, displacement, unending journey and lasting memory. Her semi-abstract, minimalist art is primarily about the process of self-location faced with constant change and uncertainty.

Her work is largely defined by her adherence to the personal and the elemental. Using barely a symbol or a line along with flowing calligraphic script in Urdu, she creates a visual world, which speaks in minimal gestures. This facet of her art practice is evident in a new solo show, entitled ‘The Ten Thousand Things’, presented by New York based Luhring Augustine. Her latest series of works includes works on paper and sculpture.

Born in 1937 in Aligarh, the artist received a degree in mathematics. She studied printmaking at Atelier-17 in Paris with S. W. Hayter and woodblock printing at Tokyo’s Toshi Yoshido Studio. Since then the artist has spent her life crisscrossing the globe, including Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the United States. Even after in the 1970's when she decided to make New York her base, she always remained on the move. Holland Cotter, the art critic of The New York Times, has rightly pointed out, ‘she was a nomad well before a peripatetic way of living became art-world norm.’

Zarina Hashmi has invariably engaged with the socio-political aspect of space and its crossings. It amply reflects her extensive worldwide sojourns and the multiple shifts that the term ‘home’ brings to her. The exploration of memory and place are core to her investigations. She draws upon a recollection of varied experiences, which manifest as floor plans of different homes she has lived in at some point in time, maps of countries she has inhabited, letters by her sister etc.

The artist looks to challenge familiar concepts like ‘country’, questioning the way they are bordered, delimited and then traversed. She confronts the feelings they evoke in us. Her minimalist prints use the shifting locations for constructing new geographies, to imbue them with a totally new perspective and a universal meaning.

Elaborating on her art, the gallery mentions in its release: “For this restless traveler, a global citizen and yet, an exile - the notion of home here is tenuous, yet paramount. Unraveling this facet of her persona is her seminal work ‘Home is a Foreign Place’. It comprises 36 woodblock prints. Each of them stands for a particular moment in time and space. Each subject is inscribed in Urdu beneath the print to denote the role that language continues to play in her work, as well as to pay homage to a mother tongue truly in decline.

“Other works on paper include pin drawings, laminated paper sheets pierced in extensive and meticulous grid patterns, and Shadow Houses, captivating cut paper works that deftly play with light & shadow. They all suggest the transient nature of home. In a further meditation on this theme of (homesickness or homelessness), the sculptural works ‘Homes I Made’ and ‘Couple of Houses’ are composed of multiple small houses. They attest to the home as an itinerant place. In effect, home is where one is able to set oneself down; it tends to travel with each of us.”

Her work, even while exuding a minimalist sensibility, is imbued with a materiality. The same looks to mitigate the utter starkness of her ‘reductive’ approach, leading to large pieces, small drawings, a thread piece and other off-beat materials. These together suggest the breadth of her formal influences: rich Indian textiles traditions on the one hand; Western abstraction, on the other. Exposure to architecture is well reflected in her usage of geometry as well as her emphasis on sheer structural purity.

A renowned printmaker, her oeuvre has witnessed a marked transition over the years. A series of cast-bronze sculptures she worked on during the 1980's and 90's were based on shapes of seedpods and flowers. They established a recurrent theme, referring to her sisters and to their childhood home. Later she turned to Sufism, a meditative form of Islamic thought. It gelled well with her approach towards her art, viewing the world around in form of spiritual metaphors. Her more recent works tread upon a larger terrain of the inter-cultural violence, global politics and social injustice. She refers her visual vocabulary from Sarajevo to NY and the momentous events of 9/11, to depict a landscape of irreparable loss and despair.

Distinguished by its spare elegance, its tactile quality and its reverence for personal memory, Zarina Hashmi’s latest work transforms the private domain into a sphere with an all-encompassing universal resonance.