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Zarina Hashmi Studio Visit

The artist discusses a life mapped through art and how themes of exile and loss are embedded in her work

Zarina Hashmi left India in 1958. Around the same time, her family were subject to relocation from Delhi to Karachi following the partition of India and Pakistan. Consequently exile and the loss of the family home are embedded in her work, whose spare visual vocabulary often evokes physical and psychological spaces relating to memories of childhood and later life.

Letters from Home 2004 is a set of woodcuts in which handwritten letters from her sister Rani are overlaid by maps and floorplans that represent the artist’s travels and places where she has lived. The Urdu text signals Hashmi’s abiding relationship to her native tongue as well as an entire linguistic culture ruptured by partition.

Transcription

I first came to New York in 1973. I really don’t have a family in India, the country was divided, you know, millions of people moved from one side to the other, but when you’re young you don’t get it because I was ten years old. It hit me much later, it’s almost like your writing your life story, and it’s not just my 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.

I have been questioned “why you call it letters from home?” My sister wrote to me she’ll always be my home because we shared a child hood you know twenty one years of our life we lived under one roof. You know my work is about writing and most of the writing is done in black ink, so it’s black and white. For me the image follow the words and they all come from, they all have a reference somewhere mostly in poetry. I just made my personal life the subject of my art, so I have to write about what I have gone through. Oh it’s very painful. I have to open up my life as I say to the scrutiny of strangers.

My sister she was writing to me informing me that mother passed away and the sister passed away, the house has been sold, and I thought put that letter in a house, that my mother will have a house. I have shown it in different ways, sometime as a grid or sometime just in one line. It depends what kind of space you have, where you hang it differently.

When I’m carving I use ply wood and it’s very soft to cut. I just like the texture of wood, I like you know the way you dig in. You can say what it is, it is Iraq.

When I came in the seventies there were not many artists. I think people are beginning to look at people who came from other cultures, and what they bring, I thought it would be difficult but lately the younger generation has responded to it which makes me very happy.

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