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Thursday, January 2, 1986 
Page 7

"Paper", says Zarina Hashmi, "is a wonderful casting medium. Strong and light, yet direct - paper sculpture moulded through this process is as strong as bronze". Her exhibition continues at the Gallery Chawkundi through January 7. by Tehmina Ahmed

Could you tell me what this means? Why do you make sculptures from paper? Are you an amateur or a professional? These were some of the questions put to Zarina Hashmi by visitors at an Exhibition of prints and sculpture - the first of her work to be shown in Pakistan, at the Gallery Chawkundi.

The artist with twenty years of work behind her explained with ease, warmth and enthusiasm why she chose to build paper houses, shapes, forms, what these forms meant to her, and how she had come to live within this world of paper. 

After graduating from Aligarh University, Zarina first began to work as a traditional painter in India. Embarking on what was to be the first voyage of many, she went to Thailand where she studied woodcut. Moving on to France, she studied at the Atelier 17 with the print maker Stanley William Hayter.

She learnt the techniques of print making and going beyond the rudiments developed a style which was to bring her to paper sculpture. Working surfaces densely, Zarina found her prints becoming embossed. After a certain point, the conventional medium could absorb no more and began to resist the thrust of her technique. Zarina then decided to pour paper into plates to achieve the effect she desired.

From here Zarina Hasmi moved on to paper sculpture. She now makes her own paper pulp, puts it through a sieve and into a mold. When the mold loses its liquid content, the paper assumes its shape "Paper" she says, "is a wonderful casting medium. Strong and light, yet direct - paper sculpture moulded through this process is as strong as bronze."


Paper as strong as bronze. There is a similar contrast in the artist herself. Firmly rooted in the sub-continental tradition, yet going beyond it. Using her own found medium to mould forms as old as time. Using old forms to unmask new thoughts. Putting forward the most strong and independent views in the most firm and tranquil manner. 

"I never did like being told what to do" she says. Perhaps this was the propensity that was to help her make a break with the conventions in her life and art. On returning to India from Europe, Zarina Hashmi who had travelled so far with a diplomat husband decided to start her own studio, to live independently - to use her art to support her life.

Visiting Japan to study woodblock printing and paper making led to a one woman show in Los Angeles, the show led to other things which have kept her at work in the United States of America for the last ten years. 

Her eyes light up when she begins to speak of the New York Feminist Art Institute, where she taught for five years. Feminism and art are no separate qualities for Zarina Hashmi. Her art is her life .... and a strong feminist commitment is an integral part of that life.

Even among the privileged classes in a privileged society, she says, discrimination is a certain fact - in the world of art, as elsewhere. The Feminist Art Institute counters the weight of male domination in a work and show place where workers, teachers and critic are all women. Courses in women's art, history, criticism, painting, sculpture and print making run through a semester - there are no credits at present. Most students are functioning artists who have been to traditional art schools - they come to the Feminist Art Institute for the fresh insights and perspectives it has to offer.

Zarina has also worked on the collective editorial board of Heresies, a magazine exploring art and politics with a feminist outlook - the publication focuses on women who belong to racial minorities in the U.S.A. The under privileged within an under privileged class, the black, Hispanic and Asian women who have identity conflicts, economic problems and racial slurs to add to the onus of sex discrimination. 

"A hostile environment", says Zarina "can destroy you - or it can make a fighter out of you, so that you fight to destroy it". Such an environment, she believes, is one in which women are financially dependent on men or on their male headed family networks. Self respect, she feels, cannot be found in such a setting. Ignorance and poverty are the real problems of third world women. Tackle these barriers and others will begin to fall. She speaks of the traditional arts of rural women in India - of crafts and skills which, once harnessed, would set these women free.

'Blossom House' - etching

Zarina's current exhibition has etchings, lithographs and cast paper sculptures. With some exceptions, etchings, casts and lithos echo a repeated motif: that of home and shelter. "Seed" is a lithograph that explodes with force. "Agni" is another - sparks of gold dance among the enveloping form of its bold black lines. The creative and destructive forces of fire are apparent in its animation. There is an interesting tension in the unfolding of "Blossom" while flower and house come together in "Blossom House". The concept of shelter assumes a dynamic shape in this lithograph, its movement flowing outwards from a still centre. "Grey City" with its chainlike rows of houses has an internal symmetry and balance that draws the eye, while other paper casts and etchings explore the dimensions of the universal symbols of shelter with mature skill and simplicity. 

Its easy to see how Zarina Hashmi, at her very first solo exhibition in Delhi, won the President's Medal for Graphics. Since then the artist has explored paths of self expression and what she has found is there for others to share in this fine collection of paper work.
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