Indian-born, New York-based artist Zarina Hashmi uses family letters written in Urdu to express her identity and connections with her past.

In a short video documentary produced by the Tate Modern in London, the artist talks about her exhibition, “Letters from Home,” which opened on 28 March 2013. Through personal letters, the exhibition illustrates an immigrant’s disconnection from his or her homeland. 

Zarina Hashmi, “Atlas of My World,” 2001, portfolio of six woodcuts with Urdu text printed in black on Kozo paper, edition of 20. Image size: variable, sheet size: 25.5 x 19.5 inches (64.7 x 49.5 cm). © 2001, Zarina Hashmi; Image courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Zarina Hashmi, “Atlas of My World”, 2001, portfolio of six woodcuts with Urdu text printed in black on Kozo paper, edition of 20, image size: variable, sheet size: 25.5 x 19.5 in (64.7 x 49.5 cm). © 2001, Zarina Hashmi. Image courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

This article was written by a participant in our art writing diploma programme. Do you want to write for Art Radar, too? Click here to find out more about our Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.

In the Tate video interview, Zarina discusses how working with letters from her sister, Rani, has helped her to preserve her sense of identity. “It’s almost like writing your life’s story, and it’s not just my life’s story. It’s the story of all immigrants. And that’s where the home comes in, the idea of home, and maps and floor plans,” she says. “I just made my personal life the subject of my art, so I have to write about what I have gone through”.

Watch the Tate video interview with Zarina on youtube.com

The video juxtaposes images of New York, where Zarina has lived and worked since 1973, with the Urdu-inscribed prints that illustrate both her physical and emotional journeys. The first artwork in the video is a detail of Atlas of My World (2001), in which a jagged black line separates India from Pakistan. “I really don’t have a family in India,” Zarina notes. She states that the significance of her family’s forced move from India to Pakistan, a result of the 1947 Partition, was not something that she fully comprehended until many years later.

Zarina Hashmi, ‘Atlas of My World IV,’ 2001, from the portfolio “Atlas of my World,” 2001: woodcut with Urdu text, printed in black on handmade Indian paper, mounted on Arches cover white paper, sheet size: 25.5 x 19.5 inches, image size: 16.75 x 13.5 inches. © 2001, Zarina Hashmi; Image courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Zarina Hashmi, ‘Atlas of My World IV’, 2001, from the portfolio “Atlas of my World”, 2001: woodcut with Urdu text, printed in black on handmade Indian paper, mounted on Arches cover white paper, sheet size: 25.5 x 19.5 in, image size: 16.75 x 13.5 in. © 2001, Zarina Hashmi. Image courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Zarina’s style derives from the blending of cultures that she has experienced in her travels and studies. She completed a degree in Mathematics in 1958, but soon fell in love with printmaking. After training in woodblock printing in Bangkok and Tokyo, Zarina also studied intaglio in Paris.

In Zarina’s workspace, bits of paper, covered in Urdu and cut into geometric strips, await placement in her various artistic projects. The plywood engravings she has used in the printmaking process are seen at her workbench. The softness of the wood is what attracted Zarina to the medium: “I just like the texture of the wood; I like the way you dig in.”

Zarina often uses writing as the subject of her work and is greatly influenced by the rich poetic history of her mother tongue, Urdu. “For me, the image follows the words and they all come from, they all have a reference somewhere, mostly in poetry,” she explains.

Zarina Hashmi, ‘Letter II,’ 2004, from the portfolio “Letters from Home,” 2004, portfolio of eight woodblock and metalcut prints on handmade Kozo paper and mounted on Somerset paper, edition of 20, image size: 12 x 9 inches (30.5 x 22.9 cm), sheet size: 22 1/4 x 15 inches (56.5 x 38.1 cm). © 2004, Zarina Hashmi; Image courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Zarina Hashmi, ‘Letter II’, 2004, from the portfolio “Letters from Home”, 2004, portfolio of eight woodblock and metalcut prints on handmade Kozo paper and mounted on Somerset paper, edition of 20, image size: 12 x 9 in (30.5 x 22.9 cm), sheet size: 22 1/4 x 15 in (56.5 x 38.1 cm). © 2004, Zarina Hashmi. Image courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Zarina Hashmi, ‘Letter VII,’ from the portfolio “Letters from Home,” 2004, Portfolio of eight woodblock and metalcut prints on handmade Kozo paper and mounted on Somerset paper, edition of 20, image size: 12 x 9 inches (30.5 x 22.9 cm), sheet size: 22 1/4 x 15 inches (56.5 x 38.1 cm). © 2004, Zarina Hashmi; Image courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Zarina Hashmi, ‘Letter VII’, from the portfolio “Letters from Home”, 2004, portfolio of eight woodblock and metalcut prints on handmade Kozo paper and mounted on Somerset paper, edition of 20, image size: 12 x 9 in (30.5 x 22.9 cm), sheet size: 22 1/4 x 15 in (56.5 x 38.1 cm). © 2004, Zarina Hashmi. Image courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Dashmesh Gill, an Indian-born Canadian poet who writes primarily in Urdu, says in an email to Art Radar that visual images such as those presented in Zarina’s work have in turn inspired him as a writer. “My poetry follows images,” he explains. “As a poet, I weave words around them so others can see them too.”

Also in an email to Art Radar, Ajit Maan, American cultural theorist and author of Internarrative Identity: Placing the Self, describes Zarina’s work as “the art of the nomad, crossing the borders of conventional categories of nation, language, medium and treatment of medium to explore and express her experience.”

Zarina Hashmi, ‘Travels with Rani,’ 2008, diptych, intaglio on Arches cover buff paper and woodcut on Okawara paper mounted on Arches buff paper, edition of 25, image size: 14 1/2 x 13 in. (36.8 x 33 cm), sheet size: 24 x 20 in. (61 x 50.8 cm). © 2008, Zarina Hashmi; Image courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Zarina Hashmi, ‘Travels with Rani’, 2008, diptych, intaglio on Arches cover buff paper and woodcut on Okawara paper mounted on Arches buff paper, edition of 25, image size: 14 1/2 x 13 in (36.8 x 33 cm), sheet size: 24 x 20 in (61 x 50.8 cm). © 2008, Zarina Hashmi. Image courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Zarina’s “Letters from Home” exhibition is on display at the Tate Modern until the end of August 2014. The TateShots documentary is part of an ongoing series, started in 2007, that highlights various exhibitions held at the Tate.

This article was written by a participant in our art writing diploma programme. Do you want to write for Art Radar, too? Click here to find out more about our Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.

66

  375

Related Topics: Zarina Hashmi, Indian artists, woodcuts, printmaking, art about memory, art about migration, identity art, video interviews with artists

Related Posts:

Subscribe to Art Radar for more on contemporary art from the South Asian diaspora

Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *