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Art from the Heart

Author: Niilofer Farrukh      Publications: Newsline - Artline      Dated: NULL

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One can relate to Zarina Hashmis work on two levels: emotional and aesthetic – a rare achievement in contemporary western art where the rarified image is usually the result of a purely intellectual process which often reduces it to a sterile experience for the viewer.

The mixed media show at Chawkandi Art presents multidimensional images. Zarinas free-standing sculptures and reliefs are linked to the  etchings with the common theme of Home around which her iconography has taken shape.

The artist grew up in the university town of Aligarh, a mecca to young Muslims seeking higher education in pre-partition India, and her work evokes days of a blissful childhood spent there. The bare uncluttered forms are emblematic of memorable experiences, there is impishness in On long summer afternoons everyone slept. I ran out to play and burnt my feet. A fear of shadows lingers and takes shape in On rainy nights the ghost stopped by the pillar. Far away was a house with four walls is about pure nostalgia, for perhaps her first home.

The titles lead you like clues into the realm of Zarinas memories. The portfolio of eight monochromatic prints on hand-made paper are an album of her growing years, seasons and attachments that remain deeply etched in her mind despite her long journeys to distant lands.

The most recently executed work is a series of four etchings in which the printmaker explores the format, as a square becomes the plan of her abode. Actions, feelings, sensations all turn into textures and tones as they are etched into linear symbols.

A house of many rooms, I walk from room to room, Touching walls, Boundaries of despair, reads the narrative. In the rhythm of these works is locked the ethos of a human life lived in houses away from home, when the roof, instead of providing shelter, confines, becoming the boundaries of despair.

Zarinas free-standing sculptures are about mass, just as the reliefs reveal a preoccupation with positive and negative spaces. Dense and hard-edged, the aluminium and iron is constructed into a cubicle to enclose space in A house with four walls or is made to fan out from an axis in Ghar. From a triangle, a rectangle and two spheres is fashioned A house on wheels. This form is about ten inches high and twenty-five of these constructions combine to create an installation. Repetitive images is a device Zarina employs not only to emphasise numbers, as is evident in A thousand journeys, but also to group the pareddown images for visual impact.

Zarinas imagery is often referred to as minimalistic, but somehow it has very little in common with the mechanical structures and forms that are associated with this genre in Europe and the United States. A deep-rooted eastern sensibility seems to dictate her articulations in monochromatic black on the tactile richness of a hand-crafted substrate.

Foremost a printmaker, Zarina Hashmi began her career with woodcuts, which she learnt in Bangkok. Between 1963 and 1967, Zarina lived in Paris, apprenticing at Stanley William Hayters workshop to master etching techniques. Presently settled in New York, Zarina divides her time between the east and west coast, the latter where a teaching assignment at the University of California takes her for seven months of the year.

Having earned a name in the field, Zarinas work now figures in well-known art collections such as those at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, New Yorks Modern Art Museum and the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.