Sunday, September 24, 2023

Exploring Exploring the Artistic Legacy of Zarina Hashmi: A Journey through Home, Identity, and Cultural Heritage

zarina hashmi

Jareena Hashmi, born in Aligarh, India, in 1937, is an Indian-origin American artist known by her former name. Her work spans from minimalistic drawings to printmaking and sculpture, which explores the concepts of home, distances, and trajectories. Through her extensive travels, Jareena has obtained a degree in mathematics and is attracted to architecture, which is evident in her works through the use of geometry and structural purity. As an Indian woman born into a Muslim family, she incorporates elements of Islamic decorative motifs, particularly the regular geometric patterns found in Islamic architecture.

Working primarily on handcrafted paper using intaglio, woodblock, lithography, and silkscreen, Jareena has created exquisite graphic images with simplicity and clarity. These images often complemented Urdu calligraphy, exploring the ideas of home, place, boundaries, and memories. Her works not only emphasize the essential nature of the line in both language and image, revealing the delineation of space and memory and the identification of boundaries but also accentuate the call for her native language, which demonstrates a lifelong “translation” of artistic and linguistic expressions. It is an artistic and linguistic expression of cultural heritage.

Jareena Hashmi (American, born India, 1937-2020), Home Is a Foreign Place, 1999. Portfolio of 36 woodcuts with Urdu text printed and applied to paper. The George Economou Collection Gift to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013 (2013.565a-n)


While her artistic practice is influenced by her lived experiences, Jareena’s work is imbued with freshness and self-reflection. In her original suite of 36 woodcut prints titled “Home Is a Foreign Place, 1999,” Jareena works as a cartographer of memories. Each print captures a glimpse of memory, such as an idealized fan on a ceiling in a vast room, a simple pictogram. It is a form that is both universal and an essence of personal experience. It also serves to remind of cultural heritage and the specificity of identity. Reflecting on the reception of one of her exhibitions, she said, “Many people came to my show and cried. I always ask them the reason, and they usually say, ‘It’s our story too.’ Many of them were people who had been exiled from their own countries: those who had escaped genocide or those who longed to return home. I feel that if you tell your story, and someone can come and cry on your shoulder, it feels like sharing.”

With a degree in mathematics, Jareena found a separate vocation in Paris, where she studied intaglio with the renowned English artist and printmaker Stanley William Hayter from 1963 to 1967, followed by woodblock printing at the Toshi Yoshida Studio in Tokyo on a Japan Foundation Fellowship (1974). When asked who her historical role models were, she named two people. The first was Dürer, whose work she studied while residing in Germany. When Dürer turned 500 years old [in 1971], I visited Nuremberg and purchased several prints, among them Knight, Death, and the Devil. Rembrandt was the second, whoseworks she studied at the Morgan Library.

Jareena was an extraordinary human being. While she focused on her art, she lived frugally in a small apartment in Manhattan, even to the extent of living as an ascetic. When a light bulb went out, she was careless about replacing it and sometimes relied on the dim light of a candle. With a cup of first flush Darjeeling tea and an abundance of English biscuits, Jareena was intellectually generous and well-read. Conversations with her encompassed in-depth knowledge of contemporary American politics to poetry and memories

 of meeting Agnes Martin. She possessed a profound wisdom born from a deep contemplation of the human condition worldwide, and her sharp intellect, quick wit, and sense of humor would transform any tea time into a lively gathering. Most importantly, her spiritual understanding of the meaning of “home,” deeply rooted in her belief system, not only enabled her to reconcile with her own permanent displacement but also worked as a sharp, insightful witness for us—a testimony of resilience.

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