Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum | New York
1071 Fifth Avenue
January 25 - April 21
The lines of Zarina Hashmi’s woodcut-printed and paper-woven maps evoke territorial borders, historical ruptures, and communal scars with a visual language that looks like Minimalism and moves like poetry. Long overdue, Hashmi’s first retrospective, curated by Allegra Pesenti, opened at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles last fall and travels to the Art Institute of Chicago this summer. For now, it resides in the galleries beside the Guggenheim’s central rotunda, which feels spatially right—a small selection of delicate works tucked into an intimate corner.
The viewer’s close proximity to the material encourages sustained engagements with several masterful series. “Home Is a Foreign Place,” 1999, features thirty-six prints of mesmerizing geometric forms, each accompanied by a spare word in Urdu script, meaning sun, moon, and stars, for example, or darkness, stillness, and despair. Meanwhile, “These Cities Blotted into the Wilderness (Adrienne Rich after Ghalib),” 2003, features a suite of nine prints depicting nine cities wounded by war (Grozny, Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Beirut, Jenin, Baghdad, Kabul, Ahmedabad, and New York).
Spanning fifty years of tactile works on paper, the exhibition illustrates the great subtly with which the artist represents liminal states and encourages viewers to cross them—from the threshold of a house conveyed in a stylized floor plan to the partition of India and Pakistan drawn in a rough, jagged line. Like emotional excerpts of Urdu verse, which the artist frequently quotes in titles, wall texts, and compositional elements (a translated line from the revolutionary modernist poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, “But the heart cannot let go of its loneliness,” is strategically placed inside the entrance to the show), Hashmi’s affective, abstract marks create a sense of structure that in turn establishes a contained space for the suppleness of words and richness of images. Tracing the outlines of that space, one’s imagination burns with associations—from memory, experience, desire, and empathy—which explains at least one reason why Hashmi’s work generates such warmth among viewers.