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A Touch of Spiritual Rationale

Author: Hameed Zaman      Publications: NULL      Dated: NULL

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KARACHI: When Andy Warhol repeated the images of Marilyn Monroe 20 times and Campbells soup 200 times, it was a hymn of a praise to banality and a satire on the constant bombardment of advertising visuals; but Zarina Hashmi, a visiting Indian artist, offers a mystic explanation for her serial multiplication of images, cranking out single-theme images again and again, with a touch of spiritual rationale which only an eastern sensibility can accept without any shadow of doubt.

The exhibition of Zarina Hashmis sculptures and etchings at Chawkandi Art, Clifton, is to end on Sept 4.

It is like telling beads, leads slipping down the thread in a continual conformity, or repeating the refrains of Qawali or like the “Wird” of “Wazifa”, or musical beats or, lets say, repeated movements of “Whirling Durvaish” she explains. A unique explanation though, for an avant garde idiom yet so comprehensible to the mystic mind.

Zarina Hamid Hashmi graduated from the Aligarh University and is making prints and sculptures since 1964. While in Bangkok, she took up woodcuts. After mastering silkscreen printing, she apprenticed herself in Germany and later in Japan. These varied phases of experience and educational concerns enabled her to produce a marvellous balance of techniques. The Thai, German and Japanese printmaking ventures she delved into remain an integral part of her creative oeuvre. »

Perhaps, her constant shifting from place to place has made her yearn for a mooring, a roof, a shelter and. finally the security of four walls. Her “House on Wheels”, “Moving House” and “The House of Many Rooms” express her burning desire for slowing down, settling for a permanent “home sweet home.“Zarina is offering two folios of prints with strange titles: “The black snake comes in the house”, or “On long summer afternoon every one slept” or “One night we heard the owl in the trees” or “l ran outside to play and burned my feet.” Perhaps, she is spreading her whole psychic map for visual inspection.

No wonder, the titles are haunting, since she strongly believes in ghosts (Jins) and the supernatural, basically an eastern phenomenon, which carries a conviction of its own. Here, her art assumes a meditative quality, highlighting an incredible enigma of being and inbeing.

However, apart from the mystic and religious connotations of her explanations, her art, if seen in correct perspective, has a sociological, psychological and philosophical relevance. Her wheels, roof-tops and “Houses on Wheels” series echo the Indian village landscape. Its linearity, circle, triangle with a rectangular base, logically fuse within a total pattern which so eloquently highlights her own roots. But at the same time, the house also shows an intense famine concern for security and shelter.

In her examination of linear and circular patterns, she, in order to simplify the visual argument, has made the shape so austere, yet there is symmetry and balance. Like a musical fugue, these identical formats, state and restate the same theme without exhausting their vitality.

Despite the minimal reductionist structures, the serial visuals are sensuous whose intricate tonal relationships shift not only with the slight alteration in light, but through every change of mood or stance on the part of the viewer. Besides, the interaction of forms in a monochromatic perception makes them more dramatic with a touch of stage setting.

The neat and unvarying shapes, triangular-cum-rectangular, float like squares of Mark Rothko, or some of the young pop artists. It has a resonance of a special optical effect. Done in sand-casting-cut metal welding-have been sprayed for a black wash. Her unusual handling of not so unusual theme is exciting no doubt, but one feels like asking a question: Is she outdoing the surrealists in making the ordinary extraordinary? However, if there is an ironic side to this machine-like repetition, there is no less disturbingly honest simplicity of western graphics. Intriguing though it may look, her fixation on repetition emerges as the most powerful statement.

Her small house without wheels, freely assembled like a cluster of houses of an Indian village is an interesting sculptural device, disjointed units yet comprising the whole where each house unit exists as a separate, yet complement each other to construct a blueprint of a planned habitat. A viewer can change the layout as he wishes. There are both tactile and kinetic values which have imaginatively exploited. The third dimensionality of the chess-board-like moving pat- terns allows plotting and replotting, keeping the viewer involved and allowing him to experience the shifting change, tiny hutments changing the rural skyline in silhouettes.

“l work in smaller scales. I know the work has a density of emotions and it will create its own space around it,” she says. An art critic, Lisa Liebmann, rightly noted about her art: “physical, literal and gesturally restrained, it is metaphorically monumental. Literally small, it is poetically vase.”

“I am instinctively drawn to the primitive and Gothic,” says she. And this instinct of Zarina for elemental associations led her to the architectural shapes, so characteristic of her work. In fact, Zarina was originally inspired by the Mughal “Baradari” where one sees pillars after pillars, penetrating the interior till main “Darbar” hall emerges. Or, take “Ghulam Gardish” where rooms after rooms are seen spreading in the dim corridors. Here history and mystery, both are living in perfect harmony. The cultivated lack of finish has provided a rough texture which goes well with the primitive dwellings.

For paper sculptures, she always gets the material from a village near Jaipur called Sanganer, where the same family is making paper since 16th century. The pulp cast-reliefs look a bit like a thick rectangle corkboard or incised stone. In fact, Zarina compares her “Book” with the written words which can neither be seen nor read, with “Taviz” or amulet which has written words encased in a cloth or silver cover, yet it has a power of its own good or evil.

Zarina, despite her so pronounced spiritual and supernatural beliefs, is a staunch feminist: “A hostile environment,” says Zarina, “can destroy you – or it can make a fighter out of you, so that you fight to destroy it.”