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Artist Profile3
Zarina Hashmi’s personal journey across continents and civilizations
She is an internationally renowned Indian artist, who conceives an engaging engraved and architectural cartography on a wooden surface. Her practice seems dedicated to the continual quest for this lost site to which she strives to draw the map, alternating between local and global, mental or physical spaces. One of the names selected to represent India’s first ever pavilion at the Venice Biennale this year, renowned engraver and sculptor Zarina Hashmi will also be having a one-person show at the Istanbul Biennale later this year, exploring nuanced relations between politics and art, soon to be followed by a major retrospective of her work at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. The core theme of the official pavilion at Venice revolves around complex yet engaging themes of history, migration and displacement presented from a transcultural point of view, which incidentally recur in her oeuvre.

Simultaneously, Paris based Jaeger Bucher Gallery hosts a year-long solo exhibition, entitled ‘Noor’, by Zarina Hashmi, comprised of works on paper, installations and her papier mâché sculptures from the early 1980s. The feeling of loss is omnipresent when one inspects the 36 engravings that form part of a body of work ‘Home is a Foreign Place’. The artist spreads out literally hundreds of drawings. Like a scar, they are repeatedly cut through by a line to the border between the two warring neighbors, India and Pakistan; drawings that resemble constellations, imbibe an afternoon siesta’s lethargic, viscously cloying time in midst of the slatted half-light of drawn blinds or soak up musical sounds with heartbeats and their rhythmical records.

A global citizen and an impenitent voyager, she experienced the miseries frontiers can inflict. The Partition line between India and Pakistan that frames the pain of exile and pricking nostalgia for a land permanently lost – with political borders redrawn forcing her family to migrate to Karachi, now in Pakistan. Her maps of countries ravaged by ethnic violence, indelible engravings depict the destruction etched into the heart. The artist invariably develops a new creative idea with a word, and not a visual image. This calligraphic element is very obvious in many of works like ‘Letters and Travels with Rani’ (2008), carrying the shared memories and a touch of nostalgia associated with the years spent in the Indian sub-continent.

Her multi-faceted practice embraces and amalgamates architecture, sculpture, woodcuts etc; tactile in the diverse materials used, minimal in its expression, and packed with meaning. Her preferred media are wood that she carves, (the wooden printing blocks), and paper that she manipulates with dexterity (including papier mâché forms). Her wood-block prints, paper casts pieces, or her wall installations connect the places and pieces of memories she gathers from them - Bangkok (1958-61); New Delhi (1961-63, 1968-74); Paris (1963-67); Bonn (1971-72); Tokyo in 1974; Los Angeles (1975-76) and finally New York, the city she has residing in since 1976 with a break in Santa Cruz (1992-97).

Like a live journal of her personal life and events, Zarina Hashmi’s work deals with a multitude of themes like displacement, travel, memory and the home, which all echo through her perpetual experience and larger identity of a Diaspora, bringing to the fore the idea of dislocation. Born in New Delhi in 1937, she spent her formative years in Aligarh. After getting married to a diplomat, she often relocated to different countries and continents, profoundly impacting her creative and sensitive mind. This reflected in a sophisticated web of maps and diagrams, embodying the memory of a place, an event, an atmosphere, or the fleeting experience of a sound, a smell, or an emotion.

The artist first did her B.Sc. (Honors) from Aligarh Muslim University (1958). She later studied printmaking with Stanley William Hayter at Atelier-17, Paris (1964-1970), and woodblock printing at Toshi Yoshida Studio, Tokyo (1974). Among her selected solo shows are recent works at Gallery Espace, New Delhi; ‘Zarina Hashmi: 1961-2011, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; ‘The Ten Thousand Things’, Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York (2009) ‘Directions to my House’, Shanghai Contemporary 07 Art Fair; ‘Kagaz Ke Ghar’ (Paper Houses), Gallery Espace, Delhi (2007); ‘Weaving Memory 1990-2006, Bodhi Art, Mumbai; ‘Silent Soliloquy’, Bodhi Art, Singapore, Thailand (2006); ‘Counting’, Bose Pacia, New York (2005); ‘Maps, Homes and Itineraries’, Gallery Lux, San Francisco (2003).

The major group shows that she has featured in include ‘Roots in the Air, Branches Below’ San Jose Museum of Art, California (2011); ‘Drawn from Life: A Green Cardamum Project’, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Cumbria, Britain (2011); ‘Voice & Vision’ Grolier Club, New York (2011); ‘Mind and Matter: Alternative Abstractions’, The Museum of Modern Art, NY (2010); ‘Luhring Augustine 25 Years’, NY (2010); ‘Orientations: Trajectories in Indian art’, De 11 Lijnen, Oudenburg, Belgium (2010); ‘The Third Mind’, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2009); ‘Expansion-Résonance’, Jaeger Bucher, Paris (2008); ‘India Moderna’, Institut Valencia d’art Moderne, Valencia, Spain ((2008); Gwangju Biennale, South Korea (2008); ‘Gouge: The Modern Woodcut’, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2008); ‘Frontlines: Notations from the Contemporary Indian Urban’, Bodhi Berlin (2008); ‘Drawn From Life: Drawing Space’, Green Cardamum, London (2008); and ‘Everywhere is War’ Bodhi Art, Mumbai (2008), among others.

In the course of her illustrious career, she has received several awards and honors including Montalvo Residency, Saratoga, California (2006); the Residency award at the Art-Omi, Omi, NY (1994); Residency Award courtesy the Women’s Studio Workshop, Rosendale, New York (1991), the N.Y.F.A. Fellowship in Printmaking/Drawing/Artists Books (1985, 1990); Japan Foundation Fellowship (1974); and the President’s Award for Printmaking (1969). She has been associated with institutes like Bennington College, Vermont; Cornell University, the New York Feminist Art Institute, and New York University as a teacher.

Zarina Hashmi’s deep attachment to Sufism and Buddhism is often evoked in her usage of gold leaf through some of her recent works. On the other hand, ‘Shadow House’ (2006), cut out of paper from Nepal, is reminiscent of Islamic architecture’s sculpted stone friezes and screens (Jali) that allow women to peep outside without they themselves being seen; an interplay of light & shade effectively evoking a house’s ephemeral nature. Redolent of sound, smell and color along with the equilibrium and symmetry of Mughal architecture’s superb structural forms, the calligraphy of Urdu marks many of her works. In them, the poetic scope far surpasses the contemporary socio-politico-cultural context. Far from being a mere staid archaeology of the still past, the artist brings forth places, atmospheres and shaped by desire and imagination, sculpted in the light of everlasting hopes rooted in the paper she expertly cuts out, breathing and ageing, amplifying its fragility and its resilience to weather ravages of time.