Breaking Journey

DATED: 24 AUG 1993

Zarinas exhibition of etchings and sculpture to be held at the Chawkandi Art, Clifton, from 24th August, comes at an opportune time. In recent years, printmaking has become a popular trend in Karachi where art students often depend upon the basic monoprint method and the maximum use of colour for effect. Zarinas sensitive etchings, without superficial visual stimuli, will offer students the opportunity to see what etching is all about.

An artist of international repute, her prints are included in collections with the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Victoria and Albert Museum, London and Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, Zarina seldom has time to display her work in Pakistan. Very much a New York artist, she displayed her work in the contemporary, Bronx Museum, New York at a solo exhibition in 91. She has been invited to take part in an exhibition planned for February 94 at the Asia Society, New York, the only representative from the sub-continent.

Her regular, albeit short trips to Karachi, are a welcome respite, encompassing her in the warmth of a close, family circle, an influence that permeates her work. A portfolio of seven prints exhibited at the Bronx Museum, celebrated a happy, early life dedicating the prints individually to members of the family.

A card explaining the artists work refers to the exhibition as the visual diary of a long journey, a fair description of a vocation spanning over three decades and many countries of the world.

Since childhood Zarina had the conviction that she would be an artist, though no emphasis was laid on art in her early years. She found outlets, modelling houses from mud and, as she grew older, reading books on art and artists borrowed from the library. Later she was allowed to take art lessons with a private tutor, but her subjects in University were science and mathematics. To these subjects Zarina attributes her involvement with geometric shapes.

Zarina has been travelling since the late 50s. Her art education began in Bangkok where she studied woodcut printmaking. ln lndia and Japan, Zarina joined noted papermaking centres and learned to make paper to suit her requirements, an important aspect of her work. Working with paper, she began to conceptualise further developments, sculpture, using the paper pulp as a medium. Cast in moulds of plexiglass, the experiments were highly successful. Her pieces were small in scale with organic connotations. ln 88, they were very favourably reviewed in the Art Forum publication.

ln Paris, Zarina attended the renowned printmaking workshop of the Late Stanley Hayter who became a friend and mentor. She experienced the schedule of an art institute when attending St. Martins School of Art, London. Later, in New York, she turned to the medium of bronze casting. Now a name in New York art circles, Zarina misses the excitement of the city with its numerous exhibitions, and returns to New York whenever possible.

Zarinas success is the result of hard work and dedication. Refusing to settle for the char divori concept of her generation, the home and husband syndrome, she has overcome loneliness and need.

Metaphorically, she chose to tread a thorny path with bare feet. Zarina has never wooed fame, yet it taps gently on her window. She has no time for popular trends working in a minimalistic method from a cross-cultural awareness. Her work cannot be penetrated hurriedly. lt is to be studied before it unfolds itself. The exquisite delicacy of her line work compares for sheer elegance with Kufic script. There are no superfluous lines or marks in Zarinas work. The poignant, topographic memoirs echo impressions and remembered responses.

Interviewed by the distinguished art critic, Lise Liebman, Zarina spoke frankly before a packed, New York art audience, to a pin-drop silence. Articulate, she does not prevaricate or colour fact with fantasy. Zarina has an extraordinary gift for not only being able to deal with the truth, but more rare, to realise what the truth is. Her latest portfolio of four prints are being exhibited for the first time. Titled House with Rooms the work relates to her sojourn in Paris, a time of estrangement and decisions. The multiple images of the first etching Once I Lived in a House with Many Rooms is developed in the second etching, I Walked from Room To Room.

The observer shares the sense of claustrophobic isolation of Touching Walls, and the final abyss in the darkness of Boundaries of Despair. lt is darkness, yet not a void. There are lines, barely discernable, behind the darkness that has to be passed through before they can be acknowledged. There is also a sense of impish humour in many of the exhibits. The conical, Gnomish roofs of Zarinas bronze houses are piquant. The wheels of the wall based sculptures, House on Wheels, resemble embroidery frames. At another angle the sculptures are similar to large scissors, all the accoutrements of the busy housewife.

She pays wry homage to New York in the etching, Craving Concrete. A print titled The End Game pays homage to Samuel Becket, a set of two prints Exploring the Wreck 1 and 2 Carry a literary reference. A collection of 13 bronze sculptures measuring 12 by 18 ins. titled Couple of Houses; playfully refer to Brancusis sculpture The Couple. The free standing, four wheeled houses, Moving House are so perfect, that the temptation is to carry one off and keep it always in ones pocket. A home wherever one goes.

Once, long ago Zarina was driving alone through a deserted and barren terrain. Suddenly aware of the chaos that lies outside the barrier of an outlined cosmos, she stopped the car to still her panic. Gazing around, she became aware of being her own centre. This identification with the kernel of her own space has enabled her to identify home as being wherever she is.

Zarinas work carries the conviction that each individuals existence is composed of successive moments in particular places. That each one views a life through the dynamics of recall, confirming continuance to oneself and to others.