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Zarina Hashmi: Return of the Native

Author: Amra Ali      Publications: NULL      Dated: 12 Aug 1993

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Zarina Hashmi, a print maker, returns to Karachi with a fresh series of etchings to be displayed at Chawkandi Art from August 24.

She works in New York and has recently been a visiting faculty member at the University of California. Zarina has established a place for herself and has come to terms with who she is – an Asian woman in the extremely competitive art world of New York.

Zarinas work is not new to those in Karachi who have been following her exhibitions held every few years at Chawkandi.

The etchings on show are the result of a six-week artists in residence grant sponsored by the Women Studio Workshop and the New York State Council on the Arts. Her work is intense and follows a consistency that can only be achieved by one having the coming from in her work. Zarinas images are derived from folk elements like embroideries and carvings, etc. She is, most of all, influenced by the laces, and displays a similar attention to detail and design that was given in creating them by the older women of yesteryears. These are the elements that have stayed with her, evoking a strong bond within her.

Lisa Liebermann, writing on Zarinas work in the pre- stigious Art Forum magazine, says “Her metaphors …. with their cultivated lack of finish and their suggestion of porousness of materials  breathing …. are as open to any myth of creation as they are to poetics of decay.”

The present work is in two series of etchings entitled the house with four walls and A house of many rooms. Each of real part of each other.

The repetition of similar lines is a constant feature in all her works, and is in fact the key to understanding her art. Zarina traces its origin in Western art to Eastern sources like the simplicity of repeating the same words or phrases on the tasbih which, as one reads them, creates a new reality. The other example is in eastern music where the repetition of just one musical note can mesmerise the audience and bring them to the state of ecstasy. The repetition of stark black and white lines has a similar response.

In the series the house with many rooms the grid is the repetitive element. Compared to her other works, this series is full of pain as is obvious from titles like Boundaries of despair. The image is a stark black with an illusion of the grid showing from underneath. The black projects a strong decisiveness seriousness and clarity of vision.

Zarina says that in the cross-cultural world of today one cannot be constrained by political boundaries. However, her work reflects a strong personality that has followed her instincts rather than being submerged in a sea of ideas foreign to her.

Like her earlier series entitled The house at Aligarh, the new ones evoke a similar nostalgia. There is a strong personal sense of being, the artist revealing herself slowly through instances in her childhood or later on through obsessive images that have become personal symbols. The use of titles like Ammi waits for her Motia blossoms or Saeeda brings her children and Abba comes in to look at  us gave the Aligarh series the character of an old family album. The text seemed as much a part of the work as the images, for it gave another dimension to the visual aspect.

There is a strong sense of who she is and where she is her work is a square of the same size. Inside the square she deals formally with line. Line manages to become the metaphor for the four walls of the house. For Zarina, the formal elements of drawing are limited – a line, a square or a circle. A drawing must work well in the placement of these elements, which are simplified as much as the artist can.

In Far away there was a house with four walls, crisp black and white lines occupy the four walls of the frame, exposing the bare, grainy paper in the centre. These lines move into the centre in On long summer afternoons everyone slept. In I run outside to play and burn my feet a dark image relates to its ground by the subtlety of the way its edges merge with the paper. The image in all her works is carefully thought out and drawn on the seductive ground of handmade paper. The rawness of the paper is highlighted by the hand drawn lines – the image and the surface become g an       integrand surety, with the artist deciding how much to tell us. But it is not what she says, but the indirectness of how she says it, that is most striking and interesting.

There is a chain of thought that links Zarinas images and words, a search for a deeper understanding of who she is. Zarina quotes Wilhem De Kooning, who worked on his women series for years, as having said that an artist makes only one drawing in his lifetime. The idea of creating only one drawing throughout ones life, she believes, comes with time and experience. The change is very slow and gradual, and does not occur on a conscious level.

Zarina believes that it is only in ones childhood that one really is capable of expressing oneself freely. The nostalgic return of stories and images of her childhood that form Zarinas language of art, transports the viewer to an enchanting world she yearns to recreate and relive.