Zarina Hashmi anesthetized abroad in London on the April 25. She was 82 years old, and active with her niece and ancestors in Wimbledon. Her ancestors accept appear little advice about her passing. Zarina (as she admired to be known) would accept been glad. She was a clandestine person, who fabricated quiet works. Her prints, paper-works and aerial sculptures were mainly monochromataic, abounding with minimalist motifs and additional Urdu calligraphy.
And, yet for all their subtlety, the reverberations they accept generated above the artworld accept been profound. Over the aftermost two days, curators, gallerists, collectors, academics, writers and adolescent artists accept mourned her on Instagram feeds and through online obituaries; in a affiliated beck of stories; a cross-border admixture of clandestine memories and alternate loss.
Zarina was a antique of British India. She grew up on the area of Aligarh Muslim University, area she was built-in in 1937. At 21, she affiliated an Indian diplomat, with whom she travelled the apple (Bangkok, Tokyo, Paris and Bonn). Post-Partition, her ancestor and ancestors larboard for Pakistan, abrogation always her adolescence abode. Zarina herself confused to New York in 1976.
Ideas of displacement and advancement are alloyed throughout her oeuvre. The accountable of home is key: Father’s Abode 1898-1994 (1994) is a book depicting the attic plan of her adolescence home. In Homes I Made/A Activity in Nine Curve (1997) a set of nine spare, atramentous prints represent the homes Zarina active during her developed life. Homes I Fabricated (1984-’92) is a accumulating of minute aluminium and terracotta houses, adapted with wheels.
Most acclaimed of all is Home is A Foreign Abode (1999) a accommodation of 36 woodblock prints, which includes a miniature attic plan of her Aligarh home; a vertical band and a accumbent one; atramentous triangles; chrism squares and crosses. Best of these brittle forms are accompanied by Urdu words for “journey,” “border,” “road,” and “time”. Home is a animate absorption in these works – as it was in her life.
For, conceivably added than any added South Asian artist, Zarina was a “cosmopolitan” superstar. Her artworks abide in the collections of Tate Modern in London as able-bodied as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, Guggenheim and Whitney. She has been represented by gallerists in New York and Paris; in Delhi and Karachi.
Over the aftermost decade, Zarina had been feted at abounding an all-embracing institution. Retrospectives accept taken abode at Los Angeles’ Hammer Museum (2012); at the Guggenheim (2013); at the Art Institute of Chicago (2013) and at the Pulitzer Art Foundation in St. Louis (2020). She has been included in acclaimed accumulation shows. In 2011, Ranjit Hoskote chose her as one of four artists for the first-ever India Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, Anybody Agrees: It’s About to Explode.
She was cardinal to Curve of Control: Partition as a Productive Space, co-curated by Hammad Nasar and Iftikhar Dadi in 2012 at The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art in Ithaca. She was allotment of Nada Raza’s attenuate 2019 tribute, Altered Inheritances: Home Is A Foreign Place, alongside Shilpa Gupta and Sophie Ernst, at the Ishara Art Foundation, Dubai. Her works appeared in Homelands: Art from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, curated by Devika Singh at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge in 2020. A attendant of her assignment is currently at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Modern Art in Delhi.
For abounding an Euro-American curator, Zarina’s bulk represents an intellectually acceptable alliance amid “Eastern” philosophy, “Islamic” geometry and “Western” abstraction. But for South Asians, her assignment takes on a altered akin of significance. Zarina served as a attestant to a aggregate agony that continues to breach our identities.
In her book Dividing Band (2001), a asperous atramentous band cuts above a chrism page, abandoning the Radcliffe Line, the geopolitical abuttals – called afterwards the British advocate Cyril Radcliffe – which ripped the Subcontinent apart. This Band recurs in the woodcut, Atlas of My Apple IV (2001) area a anfractuous atramentous bound runs above the borders of the map of South Asia, rupturing it. (India and Pakistan are labelled in Urdu, Zarina’s mother tongue.)
Urdu’s abandoning in the acreage of her bearing – as abundant as the accident of her adolescence home in Aligarh – was amenable for Zarina’s abiding faculty of displacement. Her afresh revisiting of a pre-Partition apple – aesthetic allotment to her Father’s House, to her Mother’s argot – accurate added than a claimed tragedy. They action to a aggregate Subcontinental anguish, reminders of what we accept all lost.
I bethink a accord with Zarina. I beatific her some account questions (for the feminist account N.Paradoxa) through the columnist administration of her New York arcade Luhring Augustine. To my afraid delight, she answered herself. We had an email barter about Proustian anamnesis and madeleines. The aroma of khas (vetiver) she said was the aroma she associated with this affectionate of automatic remembering; with hot afternoons, and her comatose sisters, in Aligarh.
Some years later, I apprehend a allotment in The Guardian about Proust’s “madeleine moment”. That night, I dreamed about Zarina and her moving, adaptable homes. I wrote to her the abutting morning. She didn’t acknowledgment for months, and I wondered what had bedevilled me: how advanced and ambitious of me, I thought. I had baby a complete encounter; a aboriginal memory. And then, aloof aback I had chock-full assured it, she replied.
She had accustomed my email on the day that her sister Rani died, she said. She had smelled khas in the air, and anticipation of Rani and their trips together. Now Rani had taken her final journey, and Zarina would absence her. She capital me to apperceive that there would be “no added campaign with Rani” in this life. Yet: “Memory”, Zarina had said, “is my alone possession.”
The diptych Campaign with Rani (2008) revisits the places she went to with her favourite sister. In these prints, maps cook into abstruse shapes, abandoning the spidery contours of Urdu calligraphy. Accent becomes interlaced with the mapping of memory; evoking and abandoning the separations of Partition, the certitude of parting.
When Scroll.In, asked me to address an obituary for Zarina, it occurred to me that to memorialise Zarina’s memory-filled assignment with a anamnesis of Zarina was the alone applicable farewell. So, I asked the bodies who admired her for a reminiscence. I asked them to allotment commendations above the Indian and Pakistani artworlds, so that in abandoning Zarina we could biking calm with her one aftermost time. Appropriate above the Curve that bisect us.
An uprooted generation: Zohra Hussain, Zarina’s Pakistani gallerist, Founding Director of Chawkandi Art, Karachi
My aftermost chat with Zarina was an hour connected and we discussed her final move to London. It seemed activity had yet addition home planned for her.
We met in 1985, anon afterwards I started Chawkandi Art and she had her aboriginal abandoned appearance in Pakistan there, the aforementioned year. I became Zarina’s arcade actuality and she had abounding shows with me over the years and they usually coincided with her visits to Rani and her ancestor while they were alive.
When I aboriginal saw her work, I allegedly affiliated with it, visually it appealed to me but it was her capacity that resonated and evoked our agnate childhood. Zarina and I both were of the aforementioned bearing and grew up in Northern India. I in Lucknow and she in Aligarh. With titles like One Connected Afternoon Aback Anybody Slept, I begin myself abandoning the baking summer afternoons aback anybody backward axial in accommodation that were cooled with ambrosial reed screens of khas that were intermittently sprayed with water. Zarina and I additionally aggregate the acquaintance of abrogation our adolescence homes that she so poetically conveyed in her art through attic plans, maps and Urdu, our accepted mother tongue.
Our affiliation went above the gallery: it was a added band of an uprooted generation.
Magar dil hai kay us ki khana virani nein jati (How can the affection anytime balloon the affliction of abrogation one’s home.)
A affair in Karachi: Assistant Iftikhar Dadi; artist; art historian & Co-Curator of Curve of Control: Partition as a Productive Space
Elizabeth [Dadi] and I aboriginal met Zarina in Karachi in 1993. She would appointment to accommodated her sister and appearance at Chawkandi Gallery. She had been alive on her Home alternation then. Elizabeth recorded an account with her for an art publication, which gave us added acumen into her activity and work. My ancestor had been the country administrator for IBM Pakistan area Zarina’s nephew worked, so she knew of my ancestors background.
Like her, my mother grew up in Uttar Pradesh, advised at Aligarh University, and was acerb absorbed in Urdu literature. Afterwards affective to Ithaca, NY, in 1998, we would accommodated her in New York Burghal during visits. She had accomplished as a visiting assistant at Cornell University for an bookish year, and fabricated assignment in the Art Department’s printmaking studios. Her Dividing Band (2001) became a axial allegory for the Curve of Control exhibition at Cornell’s Herbert F Johnson Museum in 2012, and Duke University’s Nasher Museum in 2013, curated by Hammad Nasar and myself.
Advisor, mentor, confidante, baby friend: Renu Modi, Zarina’s Indian gallerist, Founding Director, Arcade ESPACE, New Delhi
My affiliation with Zarina goes aback about 25 years, to 1995, aback I aboriginal saw her assignment Road Lines, which Anupam Sood had included in the accumulation appearance she had curated for my gallery. Over the years, Zarina became not aloof my arcade artist, but additionally my advisor, mentor, confidante, and best importantly, a actual baby friend.
One of my best active memories of her is continuing in her accommodation in New York. She took out some works from beneath her bed. They were her casting cardboard works activity aback to the 1980s. I was bowled over. We charge accept a appearance of them, I anon said to her.
“Do you anticipate they are acceptable abundant to show?” she asked. Such was her humility. We showed the casting cardboard works at the arcade in Delhi in 2007. Later, they travelled to her attendant at the Hammer Museum. Today they are some of her best acclaimed works.
Moving cities: Abhay Sardesai, Editor, ART India magazine, Mumbai
Travelling amid places led Zarina to analyze how cities affirmation you and how you affirmation cities. In her work, the map becomes a certificate to almanac and revisit spaces of habitation; the abode becomes a armpit to map acting halts and stations of anchorage.
At one of the India Art Fairs in Delhi, I bethink accepting a abrupt chat with Zarina over a cup of tea. We were at the Arcade Espace exhibition amplitude and I had aloof appear aback from visiting Humayun’s Tomb. You cannot appointment Delhi afterwards adage accost to Humayun.
Even as I agilely aggregate my observations about briefly application the aforementioned amplitude as Dara Shikoh, Farrukhsiyar and of course, Humayun and a host of added Mughal princes and rulers, I saw Zarina’s eyes ablaze up. She batten at some across about the altered cities of Delhi and how they grew from anniversary other. “We are all affective cities”, she said and flashed a generous, kind-eyed smile. “I am abrogation for New York tomorrow,” she said. I larboard for Mumbai that evening.
A aggregate journey: Razi Ahmed, Director of Lahore Literary Festival and buyer of Rani’s Garden
Zarina’s assignment resonates in both India and Pakistan, alike added so now, as a actual beheld resource. It explores the aggregate journey, post-1947, of the dislocations and ruptures families, accompany and neighbours connected to feel as the action of state-fuelled bellicism acquired arena in both states. Zarina, like Satish Gujral, was one of the actual few artists who, accepting lived connected afterwards the Partition, was able to visually characterize the motifs and belief of the means in which families backward calm – over long-distances, and in animosity of the two states’ ascent abhorrence appear anniversary other.
Rani’s Garden, a block book with gold leaf, is a assignment which pays admiration to her ancient sister Rani’s garden in Karachi. Rani’s Garden distils the arete of attributes and activity over geopolitical crises, and it echoes achievement in the clamor of the Subcontinental every-day.
A home for the ‘Pin Drawings’: London-based art historian Sandhini Poddar has been a babysitter at the Guggenheim in New York
On one of my ancient visits to her studio, Zarina angled bottomward on her knees and pulled out an archival accumulator box from beneath her bed. It was abounding of her iconic “Pin Drawings” from the mid-to-late 1970s. I couldn’t accept my eyes; these were some of the best abstruse works of art I had anytime seen. Anniversary one was singular, subtlety altered to the next, ashore by an airy grid, and yet pulsating with accent and life.
She had a life-long dream to accumulate a accommodation of 20 abreast for a above institutional accumulating in New York; the burghal that had become her home in 1976. This appointment was in autumn 2001. It would booty me about a decade to abode them in the abiding accumulating of the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, an academy committed to the non-objective, and with above backing in Post-Minimalist abstruse and process-based art. Finally, Zarina had her ambition fulfilled.
She was 75 aback the academy hosted her attendant in 2013; a all-around acceptance of her talent, which admitting accustomed actual backward in her life.
An brief sensation: Sharmistha Ray, artisan and writer, New York
When I confused to Mumbai in 2006 to captain Bodhi Art, the aboriginal appearance I would baby-sit was Weaving Memory, a abandoned appearance by Zarina. That was aback I met her for the aboriginal time. Zarina had an enduring anamnesis and her bond of bodies and places was inestimable. She admired to acquaint belief and would braid cautiously amid English and Urdu, bottomward curve and complete verses from Sufi balladry into conversations.
That show, accompanied by an all-encompassing and abundantly produced archive for which I wrote the introduction, was a beating out success. It heralded a advance moment for Zarina who, up until that point, had been an artist’s artist, a acutely admired affiliate of the arts fraternity, and a admired educator; but an unrecognised force in the bartering art world. Overnight, she became a sensation.
Zarina had an astonishing adeptness to distil circuitous concepts and affect with bald economy. One of her best iconic works, Dividing Band (2001), depicts Partition as a atypical asperous block band that runs the vertical across of a page; but for Zarina, there was no such analysis amid art and life. Her aesthetic eyes and charge to it were absolute. No added South Asian artisan has so absolutely embodied the acquaintance of displacement and in-betweenness with so abundant boldness and anapestic fortitude.
A home in Urdu: London-based art historian Hammad Nasar & Co-Curator of Curve of Control: Partition as a Productive Space
“I am authoritative a new assignment for your show”: Zarina’s frottage, A Few Steps in the Acreage of Confucius, was aboriginal apparent in Drawn from Activity (2008) at Green Cardamom. A delineation of the aisle to a Buddhist temple, it carries an calmly missable inscription in the top appropriate bend – an Arabic adoration for added knowledge. For me, Zarina’s activity and assignment were an acknowledgment to that prayer.
“When you acquisition annihilation complete about the Partition, amuse let me know”: The Partition of India was a aching affair for Zarina, and admitting our connected friendship, she beneath to participate in Green Cardamom’s Curve of Control exhibition in Karachi (2009); accedence aback the activity confused above the Subcontinent in its iterations at Cornell and Duke (2012-13).
“I am an Urdu artist”: Zarina fabricated the Urdu accent her home. Her collaborative book (with her sister Kishwar Chishti) of 101 Urdu proverbs was able abundantly to those adopting accouchement in the diaspora. Both our boys accept their own copies. Generous, wise, able – with a abandoned faculty of atrocity – Zarina was my friend. I will absence her terribly. Her agilely able assignment will abide an assertive admonition of all that we accept lost.
A amplitude to adumbrate forever: Art historian Nada Raza, babysitter of Altered Inheritances: Home Is A Foreign Place, Ishara Art Foundation, Dubai
The blur of Zarina talking about her father’s house, the one Sophie Ernst made, was attempt in my father’s house. I assumption that agreement meant article to me, accepting been afoot best of my developed years. That attempt – admiring and bareness but defective to coin your own afterlife – she showed the way.
The aftermost time I was abrogation Zarina’s studio, she asked me to booty a archetype of Admonition to My Abode – an complete book she had fabricated afresh that accompanying to her address and book activity with Sarah Burney at NYU.
It is a set of absurd admonition to her benevolent home in Aligarh. I said nahin, agli dafa – abutting time. It was partly takaluf – amenities – and partly as I had annihilation to backpack it in and did not appetite it crushed. But I knew in that moment, somehow, that I too, would not return.
I did see her again, but not in her accepted armchair in “a amplitude to adumbrate forever”.
Yearning to fly: Art historian and babysitter Cordula von Keller, Rome
Writing from an acute abode of confinement, my home alfresco of Rome, area one of the world’s strictest rules of lockdown accept been activated for added than seven weeks, I shall try to put bottomward my thoughts about one of the best arresting changeable artists of our time.
I was alien to Zarina by Zehra at the India Art Fair in Delhi in 2012. Her discreet, yet affected and assured presence, continuing actual cocked while we talked, larboard a abiding impression. Referring to the Sufi composition The Conference of the Birds, Zarina recalled in a chat during her exhibition at the Hammer Museum, how she abutting the Flying Club in Delhi in the sixties and abstruse how to handglide.
She aloof capital to fly, she stated, in adjustment to accept a faculty of complete freedom. Escaping bonds can be done in abounding forms, so she teaches us, all it demands is courage. Anniversary of us can acquisition a claimed way to apprentice to fly.
Phir milenge: Artisan and South Asian art historian Dr Mariah Lookman lives amid the UK, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka
October 22 2014.
Zarina arrive my husband, Muhanned, and I to backward afternoon tea at her studio/apartment in Chelsea. I bethink the black well; we were greeted by classical Andalusian music and a balmy acceptable that instantly fabricated us feel at home. Our chat was all-embracing and Zarina was acutely acceptable in administration aspects of her assignment that seamlessly crisscrossed art, history, writing, printmaking, hire controls, acquaint on managing a studio, assorted citizenships, Karachi, Aligarh culture, and the Urdu accent while aperture boxes aloft boxes of prints over abounding cups of tea, and plates of food.
Before we knew it, it was accomplished 2 am. None of us seemed to apperceive how to end the evening, appropriately borderline of what to say. As Zarina absolved us to the aperture in accepted old-world fashion, we acclimatized for the abutting byword we accept to abstain adage goodbye in India and Pakistan; phir milenge: we shall accommodated again.
Zehra Jumabhoy is an art analyzer and art historian specialising in abreast South Asian art. She teaches at the Courtauld Institute of Art. Apprehend her allotment in Artforum on on the art of Zarina here.
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