ZARINA, 1937-2020, Indian active New York. 10 works

Zarina (Hashmi), 1937-2020



Zarina. Photo from the web, unknown date



Zarina Hashmi used only her first name professionally. 



Born in Aligarh in India in a Muslim family, she was ten in 1947 at Partition.  In 1959 her family left India for Karachi  She married before that date and had embarked with her diplomat husband on a succession of international postings.



Zarina Hashmi did not heal from the loss of her family home, or of the city of her birth, or of the decline in India of her native language, Urdu, with its poetic traditions and its underpinning in Sufism.


From her memory, she drew her life’s work.




Untitled, 1969, woodcut printed in burnt umber on Indian hand-made paper. 

Zarina, 1937-2020, Indian active New York.  Philadelphia Art Museum




In the 1960s, she saw the paper-making traditions of Rajasthan.  She made paper the major modality of her art and she learned many printing techniques: intaglio, woodblock, lithography and silkscreen.  She also sculpted.  


Paper, she said, is like skin. 


In the early 1970s, after her husband’s early death, Zarina Hashmi moved to Manhattan.  Her studio doubled as her home.  She lived there for 45 years.







Zarina’s house, enclosed, balanced, can be compared to these two houses. 


In the first Louise Bourgeois is gesticulating to get out of the house which imprisons her.  As it did in reality in her childhood and adolescence. Her and her mother.


In the second, after the third Feminist wave,  Laurie Simmons indicates the difficulty for the forward movement of women, still hidden and imprisoned.  This time in a suburban house.



Femme Maison, 1947, ink and graphite on paper. 

Louise Bourgeois, 1911-2010, French-American.  Solomon R. Guggenheim, NY




Walking House, 1989, gelatin silver print. 

Laurie Simmons, American born 1949.  MOMA, NY



Zarina’s art  was not accepted, at first,  for not being ‘Indian enough’. To put this another way, she did not comfort the stereotypes associated with India. Nor did her work.


She aligned herself with women artists in New York engaged in the third wave of Feminism: probably the most fecund of all such waves.


Zarina participated actively in several institutions by which the women of the time sought to work out their fates:  the New York Feminist Art Institute;  on the editorial board of the the journal Heresies which closed down in 1992; and the first co-operatively-owned gallery for women artists, A.I.R. 



Zarina’s works are spare, pristine, calculated, faceted.  Like jewels. Many reflect her degree in mathematics and her interest in architecture. 






  These Cities Blotted into the Wilderness (Adrienne Rich after Ghalib). 

Zarina, 1937-2020, Indian active New York.  Philadelphia Art Museum

This depicts aerial maps of borders that have been under threat due to political conflict including Sarajevo, Beirut, Ahmedabad, Grozny, Srebrenica, Kabul, Jenin, Baghdad, and New York (Twin Towers).  Each map is marked in English and Urdu.




The title of her most famous work – Home is a Foreign Place encompassses the artist’s subject matter:  her memory



Home   Threshold   Door   Entrance   Courtyard  Wall

Sky   Earth   Sun   Moon   Stars   Axis   Morning  

Dawn   Dew   Afternoon    Stillness   Hot breeze

Evening   Shadows    Clouds    Dust storm   Rain    

Fragrance    Night   Darkness    Despair    Country     

Dust    Language    Journey    Road

Destination    Distance    Time    Border




This is a collection of 36 woodblock prints, each featuring a geometric and monochromatic design.

To create these images, Zarina wrote a list of words  meaningful to her.

She sent the list to a calligrapher in Pakistan who wrote them in Urdu’s nastaliq script.

In New York, Zarina converted the words into idea-images.



 Home Is a Foreign Place, 1999, portfolio of 36 woodcuts chine collé with Urdu text printed on paper mounted on paper,

Zarina, 1931-2020, Indian active New York. Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA.  Photo from the net.





Pool I, 1980, edition of 3; cast paper with terra-rosa pigment. 

Zarina, 1937-2020, Indian active New York.  On view at the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2022.  In the estate of the artist




A woman who relished the close and loving compound of her family in northern India with its walled courtyard full of the play of her siblings and fragrant bushes and fruiting trees, its interior reserved for the daily routines of women and children,

lived alone and worked most often alone in Manhattan for slightly more than half her life. 




 Zarina in her home in Manhattan, also her studio.  1984.  Photo by Ketaki Sheth and Photoink.




She mastered the ways and means of that life.

She worked and worked. Late-ish in that life, her considerable body of work received the recognition of her peers.




Hanging in There, 2000, wire and linen thread. 

Zarina, 1937-2020, Indian active New York.  On view at the Philadelphia Museum in 2022.  In the estate of the artist




‘Intersectionality’ would not have interested her as a description of her identity.  She saw herself as whole: at all times, she was everything that she had ever been:


an Indian, a Moslem, a native Urdu-speaker,

a spiritual seeker grounded in Sufism,

an artist, an autonomous woman  who distilled her memory of her heritage in work she chose to create on the north American continent.






The gold leaf Zarina used represents the spiritual life.

It has been said that, as her life advanced, the artist felt that a superior force was guiding her.   







Shadow House VI, 2006; cut Nepalese paper with gold leaf. 

Zarina, 1937-2020, Indian active New York.  On view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2022.  In the estate of the artist




Blinding Light is gold.  It was one of the works which represented India (the work of three other artists was also included) at the first Venice Biennale which India joined (2011). 


It is the wall of her parents’ house in Aligarh.


It seems to represent not only the promised end point of her spiritual journey but also the wealth of the artist’s native subcontinent which was her earthly grounding and from which she never separated herself.





Blinding Light, 2010,  gold leaf on Japanese paper, 2010. 

Zarina, 1931-2020, Indian active New York.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.  Photo from the net




Zarina Hashmi’s was a hero’s journey.


She travelled backwards and forwards on a network of roads anchored in her heart/mind at one end.


At the other end, her studio where, working alone, she gave her mind/hand free rein and reign.


Guided by a spiritual discipline of the pathless path between our human and divine selves.


She is of blessed memory to all of us betwixt and between.







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