Rare Saga

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Remembering Zarina Hashmi: An Artist Who Found Home in Her Art

On April 25, 2020, the world lost Zarina Hashmi, an Indian-American printmaker and sculptor whose minimalist works explored themes of home, exile, borders, language, and memory. She was 82.

Hashmi’s life was shaped by displacement. Born in Aligarh, India in 1937, her family home was destroyed during the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan imposed by the British. Various family members were displaced to both sides of the new border.

As an adult, Hashmi lived a peripatetic lifestyle with her diplomat husband, residing briefly in cities worldwide. It was this sense of unrootedness that Hashmi explored through her art. Her spare, poetic prints and sculptures used simplified architectural details, maps, Urdu text, and everyday objects to represent the physical and psychological spaces relating to memories of childhood, travel, and exile.

Works like her 1999 print portfolio “Home is a Foreign Place” encapsulate these feelings. Yet through her art, Hashmi found a sense of belonging. As she once said, “I do not feel at home anywhere, but the idea of home follows me wherever I go.”

Hashmi’s minimalist aesthetic and palette were influenced by artistic mentors like Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt, and Agnes Martin. After discovering her passion for art in Paris in the 1960s, Hashmi went on to have a prolific, decades-long career working in drawing, printmaking, and sculpture.

Beyond her profound art, Hashmi was a gracious, witty polymath – well-versed in poetry, global culture and politics. Her wisdom and humor turned every conversation into an intellectual feast. She was generous in sharing her experiences with others through her art and teachings.

Though Hashmi lived simply, she left a deep mark on the art world. Her works are in the permanent collections of institutions like the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum, and National Gallery. In 2011, she represented India at its first pavilion in the Venice Biennale.

Hashmi’s death leaves a void, but the intimate power of her work lives on. As she once said, “If you tell your story and if someone can come and cry on your shoulder, I think that is sharing.” Her story will continue inspiring people to reflect on concepts of home, borders, language, and cultural identity.

Through a lifetime of exile, Hashmi found her true home in her art. As she remarked, “the idea of home follows me wherever I go.” Though she is gone, her spirit endures in the universal poetry of her minimalist forms. Hashmi’s art will always be a home for those seeking belonging.