Zarina Hashmi

I Whispered to the Earth

1979

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Not on display

Artist
Zarina Hashmi 1937 – 2020
Medium
Cast paper
Dimensions
Object: 587 × 588 × 5 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the South Asia Acquisitions Committee 2013
Reference
T13727

Summary

I Whispered to the Earth 1979 is one of a group of wall-based sculptures, each made from paper pulp that has been moulded and shaped by the artist. This particular work in the series is square in format and features a tight grid of small, dot-like indentations in the central area, with a smooth, plain border around the outside. It is a brownish colour, a tone that may have been achieved by applying burnt umber to the surface of the paper pulp. This colouring and the reference to ‘the earth’ in the work’s title gives the sculpture the appearance of a natural object. The other works owned by Tate in this series are Wall II 1979 (Tate T13728), Fence 1980 (Tate T13729) and Pool I (Terracotta) 1980 (Tate T13730).

Zarina Hashmi was born in India but left her home country in 1958, living in various places across the world before settling permanently in New York in 1975. She is primarily known as a printmaker, having trained under the renowned English painter and printmaker S.W. Hayter (1901–1988) at Atelier 17 in Paris in 1963–7. Her work shows a deep and longstanding engagement with books and paper that is rooted in her father’s job as a history professor, his love of storytelling and Hashmi’s experience of growing up in a house filled with books. Hashmi’s paper pulp sculptures, including I Whispered to the Earth, were made in New York in 1979–80, and were fabricated using a technique she had developed following her return to India from Paris in 1967. At this time, Hashmi had begun working with handmade paper and made a trip to Sanganer, a small village near to Jaipur where paper is made using sixteenth-century production methods. Having witnessed the paper’s production and seen the material in its liquid form – being pulled out of large vats and spread across screens – Hashmi realised its potential as a casting medium. She began to produce deep relief moulds of her own, into which pulped paper was poured, pressed by hand and left to dry.

In 1979 – the year that she made I Whispered to the Earth – Hashmi taught papermaking classes at the Feminist Art Institute of New York, for which she researched the history, geography and chemistry of paper. However her interest in the material goes beyond its cultural importance and its formal properties: Hashmi considers paper to be a substance with a life and character of its own, and has likened it to skin, stating that ‘it can be stained, pierced and moulded and it still has the capability of breathing and aging. It has a fragility and resilience that lasts through time.’ (Quoted in S. Kalidas, ‘Radiant Rransits of Zarina Hashmi’, The Hindu, 5 February 2011, http://www.thehindu.com/arts/magazine/article1159045.ece, accessed August 2012.)

Since her departure from India in 1958 with her husband Saad Hashmi, a military officer engaged in international diplomacy, the artist has moved frequently between cities, countries and continents. Immediately after her departure, her family was required to relocate due to the partition of India and Pakistan, moving from Delhi in India to Karachi in Pakistan, resulting in the loss of the family home. As such, themes of the house and home play an important part in Hashmi’s work. Hashmi has said: ‘Home is the centre of my universe; I make a home wherever I am.’ (Zarina Hashmi, ‘A Conversation with Zarina in New York with Geeti Sen’, in Gallery Espace 2006, p.13.)

Despite its apparent abstraction, the geometrical shapes inscribed into I Whispered to the Earth relate to structural and decorative elements typical of the Mughal architecture of South Asia, specifically the perforated stone screens known as ‘jalis’. In citing such architectural features but presenting them in an abstract form, Hashmi makes reference to her cultural heritage while at the same time evoking the ordered simplicity and enigmatic quiet of geometric abstraction. Furthermore, Hashmi conjures up memories of lived experience through the repetition involved in the production process itself, a working method that has been described by historian Finbarr Barry Flood as a ‘performance of memory’ (Finbarr Barry Flood, ‘Memory in Material and Light’, in Galerie Jaeger Bucher 2011, p.15).

Further reading
Zarina: Paper Houses, exhibition catalogue, Gallery Espace, New Delhi 2007, reproduced p.48.
Zarina Hashmi: Noor, exhibition catalogue, Galerie Jaeger Bucher, Paris 2011, reproduced p.28.
Allegra Pesenti, Zarina: Paper Like Skin, Los Angeles 2011.

Hannah Dewar
August 2012

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Display caption

After witnessing a sixteenth-century paper-making process in Rajasthan, where the liquid pulp was mixed in large vats, Hashmi realised its potential as a casting medium. She began to produce deep relief moulds of her own, into which pulped paper was poured, pressed by hand and left to dry. Hashmi has compared paper to skin, stating that ‘it can be stained, pierced and moulded and it still has the capability of breathing and ageing. It has a fragility and resilience that lasts through time.’ Despite their apparent abstraction, the geometrical shapes imprinted onto and indented into Wall II, Fence and Pool 1 (Terracotta) refer to the structural elements of a house and its surroundings, relating to Hashmi’s memories of homes past and present.

Gallery label, April 2013

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