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The House of Four Walls

Author: Marjorie Hussain      Publications: Dawn - Review (p.20)      Dated: 31 Mar / 6 Apr 1992

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Recently here on a flying visit from New York, Zarina nursed a sprained knee and bruised fingers acquired while casting her bronze sculptures, now on display at the Bronx Museum of the Arts New York.

The Museum itself has an interesting history. Built about twelve years ago it is the creation of Mr Louis Cancell, now the Commissioner for Art for the whole of New York. It began in one room in the local Courthouse and evolved into the impressive building it is today.

A child of the Bronx, Louis Cancell grew up to become a printmaker. He joined a printmaking studio workshop in New York whose owner organised programmes for underprivileged areas of the city. Louis took printmaking to the Bronx. Loading a press onto a truck, during the school holidays when the children were on the streets, he would take the truck down to the Bronx and invite the children to make prints. The children loved it. Louis was aware that the mostly Spanish speaking inhabitants of the area were intimidated by grand Museums in affluent areas; he decided to give the Bronx a Museum of its own.

Taking over one room in the Courthouse he began to arrange exhibitions of arts and crafts from Latin America and other countries with Spanish connections. The enthusiastic public response kept Louis hard at work geared towards a fully fledged Museum. That dream was realised and the Institute now has a Director, and several spacious galleries, each with its own Curator. A lively and popular centre of art, on the way home from school, children stop by to visit the Museum and visitors come from all over New York and further afield to view the exhibits. Programmes are scheduled for two to three years ahead. Exhibitions from abroad are mounted and the Director and Curator follow the careers of talented artists, who lacking commercial contacts, have little chance of showing their work in a Blue Chip gallery. Outstanding artists whose work is consistently good, are offered a showing at the Museum.

Louis Cancell had been aware of Zarinas work for some years, on his request the artist submitted slides of her work to the Museum some years ago. Always moving on to the next thing, Zarina forgot about the incident until a call came from the Curator of the Museum. Betty Wilde, called to make an appointment to discuss an exhibition. Originally planned to open in November, the exhibition was finally inaugurated on the 20th February 92, and Zarina was grateful for every extra moment to complete her work. She had completed two exquisite autobiographical portfolios of prints and a collection of small, metal sculptures which resembled houses on two wheels; these she grouped together as wall hangings and called her beetles. What she had in her mind at that time, struggling to emerge, were a set of free standing pieces bearing an affinity to houses with four walls and four wheels.

After numerous trials and discards, Zarina completed a model in wood which pleased her; then she joined the Sculpture Centre in New York, a place where sculptors can process their work under expert guidance. Always enamoured of the hands-on experience, Zarina enjoyed each stage of the laborious and physically tough processes involved in bronze casting. They included using a lost wax method, gating, pouring moulten bronze into the mould and later, breaking the mould open with a hammer. Then the finishing touches; the filing and creating the patina. For three months, Zarina worked four days a week at ten hour stretches – the fifth day was reserved for a teaching assignment. Climbing to the fourth floor to the sculpture studio and down again for the kiln was only a small fraction of the tough exhilarating, hard work the artist underwent.

The results more than justified her efforts. A set of eleven inch high, sculptured pieces were completed and eventually they attracted much attention at the exhibition. Zarina titled this collection: I went on ajourney. The sculptures carry nuances of wandering, Romany caravans, or the bullock carts used on journeys in the subcontinent years ago. They evoke the classic tradition of Char Diwari a house with four walls. Betty Wilde, who titled Zarinas exhibition The House with Four Walls: commented on Zarinas work: “Zarinas intimately scaled house forms resting on wheels have evolved from impression stored in the artists mind.

The self imposed boundaries of the houses are echoed in the etchings, cross-sections or maps of some systerious structure while Zarinas prints reveal an inner language through graphic marks, the . sculptures are enclosures which form a protective shell around the core of deeply personal space contained within the form, Through their cryptic patterns of line and spaces, the prints become the narrative thread giving clues to the artists life story”.

Zarina was very impressed by the approach of the Museum personnel. The system is forms are filled in with details of the artists work which is insured from the time it is picked up from the artists doorstep, throughout the duration of the display, and until returned again to the artist. The work is literally handled with gloves and hung with great care. The Museum pays for the work to be framed and the postage of invitations to people on the 1500 guest list, as well as the artists own invitees. On the opening night, buses are laid on to bring guests from far districts of New York, and a reception is given to honour the artist. The Museum has no commercial dealings and no work is sold through the Museum. Funding is helped out by donations from business houses and the  private sector. Collectors can approach the artist directly as they have done in Zarinas case.

Museums from other states have shown interest in holding further exhibitions of Zarinas work. A Gallery owner operating in New York and Paris is keen to hold a show of Zarinas work in France. She has not agreed to show her work abroad as it involves time she can ill spare and energy she would rather spend on further work.

As is usual with Zarina, she is more interested in the creative process and what she learns from her work than in selling lt.

After a brief sojourn in Karachi, Zarina returned to New York where she was scheduled to give a talk at the Museum on 22nd March 92. Then, leaving the exhibition which will continue until May 10th, she packed up her New York studio and headed for the University of Santa Cruz where she teaches a course of printmaking. Already ideas for future work is taking shape in her imagination this time a series of large etchings which she hopes to complete in her Santa Cruz print-making workshop – but thats another story.

The sculptures carry nuances of wandering, Romany caravans, or the bullock carts used on journeys in the subcontinent years ago, they evoke the classic tradition of char diwari.