Monday, December 30, 2013

The Poetic Minimalism of Zarina Hashmi

The joy about writing this blog is that once in a while I find some really wonderful artists working out there, and such is the case with Zarina Hashmi. Here is a woman that has been working for quite a while, has traveled the world and one who presents a rarity found in printmaking circles – that of the conceptual mind. Zarina, as she prefers to be addressed, has been working with a spare, minimal image that at first seems very simple, but when looked at more closely, presents a haunting and authentically personal journey. One can sense her displacement and yearning for home, like reading Arshile Gorky’s personal letters about his native Georgia, Zarina describes the memories of her life through the architectural studies of former dwellings and delineated border crossings.
Her memories from within are held in small, square rooms like passages of poetry within the confines of a book’s cover. It is deeply personal work, and she imbues it with references and phrases of Urdu, her mother’s native language. This, all done in minimal tones and lines, carries a gut punch that an overly decorative image more indicative from the cultures she’s visited and lived in would seem tastelessly filled with sugar.
Minimalism and Conceptualism had a clear impact upon Zarina’s work. As pertains to her early interest in architecture, mathematics, geometry an emphasis on structure is evident in her prints. Her work initially seems as analytical and controlled as Ad Rinehardt, and her palette is decidedly minimal (loves black). Zarina’s consistent body of work enjoins her to other noteworthy minimalists – Agnes Martin and Richard Tuttle, but her aesthetic sensibilities are more in tuned with Mark Rothko, Louis Nevelson or moreso, Leslie Dill.
Zarina creates conceptual series describing her nomadic locales and travels. Her art poignantly chronicles her life and recurring themes include home, displacement, borders, journey and memory. For example, her Home is a Foreign Place series consists of 36 prints, each representing a particular memory of ‘home’. Her prints depict the floor plans of the houses and apartments in which she has lived.
Other series involve geographical borders, maps of countries and cities and contested territories. Her travels and global experiences make her an artist of the present generation, although when she was coming up in the 70's this sense of globalization was not the norm. The artist's most recent works are imbued with a meditative spirituality. Zarina directs the viewer’s mind to ideas of nothingness and infinity, the eternal.
Paper is allied with literary tradition, and it is a deeply important choice in the making of her work. She also incorporates her native language, Urdu, [poems and calligraphy] within the image to signify how vital a role it plays in her own heritage and in her artwork. “Prints are like books,” she says. “They have to be in black so you can read them.”
That which rests in our mind is often more powerful than anything we could draw, paint or photograph. Zarina’s images arrest our imagination and let us remember things of our own past. I am excited to think her work could impact the consciousness of younger artists who want to explore their own ‘global’ side. Could we be as poetic, as multi-dimensional in concept, or find as much emotional depth with such a spare line? It’s rare to find a conceptual printmaker. Our medium’s history has been tied so much to literal imagery. Here is a breath of fresh air, my fellow printmakers. Take it in, and savor it.
Bio
Zarina Hashmi was born in 1937, in Aligarh, northern India. Her father was a history professor at the local university, and thus she was exposed to a lot of literature and family outings to look at Indian architecture. All of this fueled an interest in architecture which led Zarina to study mathematics in college, hoping to become an engineer, or maybe an architect. In the late 1950s, her family was forced to migrate to Pakistan. She married in 1958 and traveled extensively with her husband, who was a member of the Indian Foreign Service. For 20 years the couple traveled between Europe, Asia, Thailand and India. This gave her a lot of mobility compared with other Indian women of the period.
After receiving her degree, she went on to study printmaking in Thailand and Japan, then went to Paris to study with the famed Stanley William Hayter, at Atelier-17. “And he [Hayter] was a great teacher. He showed me that there are no shortcuts in prints. Like when you solve a problem in mathematics, you can’t jump a step because you’ll get caught.” In 1975 Zarina moved to the United States, settling in Los Angeles and then in New York City, where she currently resides. Zarina threw herself into New York’s feminist community, curated shows and taught art.

Zarina has widely exhibited her work in numerous exhibitions, including the Indian Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale, and been made part of several prestigious public collections US, Europe, Asia and India.

1 comment:

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