US based Indian artist Zarina Hashmi no more

New York based Indian artist Zarina Hashmi, a contemporary of great icons like MF Hussain, SH Raza, FN Souza, and other modernist masters, passed away on April 25, 2020

Zarina Hashmi
Zarina Hashmi
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Girish Shrivastava

Zarina Hashmi, the stark minimalist New York based Indian artist popular for her work around the theme of home and exile, a contemporary of great icons like MF Hussain, SH Raza, FN Souza, Ara, Ram Kumar and other modernist masters, passed away on April 25, 2020 at her niece’s home in London, following a long illness.

She was 83. “Her visual language was ahead of the times when she first began exploring it in the 1960s and 1970s, but their simplicity and quiet meditativeness speak to all of us today grappling with a world in disarray”, said Delhi based gallerist and Zarina’s friend Renu Modi.

US based Indian artist Zarina Hashmi no more

Born in Aligarh (1937) Zarina Hashmi is known professionally by her first name only. Her works include drawing, printmaking, and sculpture. Associated with the Minimalist movement, her work utilized abstract and geometric forms. She earned a degree in mathematics from AMU before studying a variety of printmaking methods in Thailand, France (where she was apprentice to Stanley William Hayter), and printmaker Toshi Yoshida in Tokyo, Japan.

She lived and worked in New York City. During the 1980s, Zarina served as a board member of the New York Feminist Art Institute and an instructor of papermaking workshops at the affiliated Women’s Center for Learning. While on the editorial board of the feminist art journal Heresies, she contributed to the “Third World Women” issue.

US based Indian artist Zarina Hashmi no more

Her art was informed by her identity as a Muslim-born Indian Woman, as well as a lifetime spent travelling from place to place. She used visual elements from Islamic religious decoration, especially the regular geometry commonly found in Islamic architecture. The abstract and spare geometric style of her early works has been compared to Minimalists such as Sol LeWitt.

Zarina’s work explored the concept of home as a fluid, abstract space that transcends physicality or location. Her work often featured symbols that call to mind such ideas as movement, diaspora, exile. For example, woodblock print “Paper Like Skin” depicts a thin black line meandering upward across a white background, dividing the page from the bottom right corner to the top left corner. The line possesses a cartographic quality that, in its winding and angular division of the page, suggests a border between two places, or perhaps a topographical chart of a journey that is yet unfinished.

US based Indian artist Zarina Hashmi no more

Zarina was one of the four artists/ artist-groups to represent India in its first entry at the Venice Biennale in 2011. The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles organised the first retrospective of her work in 2012. Entitled Zarina: “Paper Like Skin”, the exhibition travelled to the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago. In the 2017-18 academic year Zarina was the Artist-in-Residence at the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU. The residency culminated in a solo exhibition, Zarina: Dark Roads (6 October 2017- 2 February 2018) and a publication, Directions to My House.

“As Kandinsky said art is meant to be made by hands and relished by eyes, I need to touch, to feel the materials. I can’t imagine making anything without my personal intervention”, Zarina had said to this author while exhibiting last time in Delhi in 2006.

Her “Dividing Line” is such a powerful work and those on the Indian subcontinent know the blood and tears behind that work and can feel the pain and loss of partition. “Partition did affect millions of Indians across the artificial border drawn on a map. My family did not suffer any physical harm. However I am the only member of my family who stayed in India. I have carried this scar on my heart for my entire adult life. Now it has come to haunt me in my old age”, she had said.

US based Indian artist Zarina Hashmi no more

Some of her major works include, “These Cities Blotted into the Wilderness”, “Home is a Foreign Place”, “Dark Night of the Soul”, “Blinding Light”, “Homes I Made/ A Life in Nine Lines” and others. “Blinding Light” and “Dark Night of the Soul” are about reconciling with mortality. Her solo exhibition named “Zarina-A Life in Nine Lines” is continuing at New Delhi’s Kiran Nader Museum, till June 30, 2020.

“I don’t know when I will embark on this journey, I do know where it will take me”, she said quoting Ibne-Arabi. “I just want a quiet corner where I can pursue my work. Celebrity has never interested me. I have no control over how my work will be remembered, the artwork is fairly fickle and as they say dying is not the best career move”, Zarina philosophises her journey in the world of art and life.

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