Zarina (1937-2020) was born in Aligarh (India), where her father was a professor at Aligarh Muslim University. The artist’s earliest, happiest years were spent in the bungalow allotted to her father there. The house, its layout, and its garden remained with her through her life – the first of many houses that feature in her art. Partition created a disruption in this idyll, and though the family lived on in India until the early 1950s, the ‘Dividing Line’ was to forever alter the fabric of her life. It is the first of many displacements whose memory and pain became the fount of her art.
Zarina’s brush with art, especially print-making, began in Bangkok where she moved after her marriage. It is here that she, then in her early twenties, began taking lessons in woodcut printing from a Thai artist. Later, when her husband, an officer in the foreign service, was posted in Paris Zarina seized the opportunity to apprentice with Stanley William Hayter at his legendary workshop Atelier 17. In 1974 she spent a year in Japan on a Japan Foundation grant studying Japanese woodblock printing. Later she moved to the US, where she lived for most of the next four decades.
An adherence to the personal and the essential defined Zarina’s work, its stark and minimal quality tempered by texture and materiality. She worked in various mediums – intaglio, woodblocks, lithography and silkscreen – and many of her works were in ‘portfolios’, a series of prints exploring connected ideas. In addition to printing on paper, she also explored its material possibilities by puncturing, weaving, scratching or sewing on it. She also created sculptures using material such as bronze, aluminium, steel, wood, tin and paper pulp. Having travelled the world and lived in many cities, Zarina incorporated maps in her works, which expanded to include the topographical details of cities whose histories had been marred by political conflict—Aligarh, New Delhi, New York, Baghdad, Kabul. She captured the collective experience of trauma with an economy of line, abstracted geometry, essential colours and the evocation of a slowly dying language: Urdu, her personal vocabulary transcending into political statement.
Zarina had several solo exhibitions at Gallery Espace, New Delhi which represents her in Asia. In a long and distinguished career, she had exhibitions in galleries and museums across the world. She represented India at the 2011 Venice Biennale, and her work features in the permanent collections of the Tate Modern, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Hammer Museum. Zarina had retrospective exhibition at Hammer Museum in 2012, followed a year later by Guggenheim Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2020 – 2021, Zarina: A Life in Nine Lines, was shown at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (New Delhi) and at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation (St. Louis, USA).
Zarina was the recipient of several awards, having received the President’s Award for Printmaking, India in 1969 and the Residency Award of New York University’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute in 2017. She was also Artist-in-Residence at the University of Richmond and taught at several universities such as the New York Feminist Art Institute, Cornel University and New York University.