She left the house in Aligarh where she was born when she was 21 in pre-partition India, and after that she saw it only in her dreams. Life took this immigrant to the United Kingdom, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. As artist and print maker, Zarina has incorporated all these journeys into her work: monochromatic prints, cast paper and metal sculpture assume the form of ontological maps through which she traces the themes of memory, nostalgia, dislocation, and family.
Recently she completed 30 years of work and Bose Pacia Gallery presented Counting, a solo exhibition of her work over the years. “Using delicate geometric forms and fluid composition, Zarina reduces complex ideas to their essential and evocative element,” says Arani Bose. In Letters from Home, a series of Urdu letters from her sister, are encased in the outline of a house, or a floor plan of her childhood home. These are the letters she received from her sister at difficult times, the loss of her parents and a sister..
In the installation Rani’s Garden, a series of bronze and cast paper sculpture become monuments to her home and family in Aligarh. ” I respond to my life, as to how I came here and why I came here – and I question that,” she says. “I respond to the world I’m living in, the riots, destroyed cities, the borders that I have crossed.”
Her sense of dislocation touches a cord in other immigrant lives, interrupted and re-started in new towns and cities.. Her work can be seen in collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.
She does go back to India for short visits, but has never lived there since she left the house she was born in. The house still stands but now it belongs to strangers. Has she ever revisited it? “I did go there in 2000, but it was a very strange experience,” she says. “I really did not know how to respond. I was not upset or crying but it left me cold. It was the only house I ever lived in my imagination. It had a life, but without the people it’s just walls.”