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Memory on the edge of collapse: Zarina Hashmi and Jean Shin
by Chitra Ganesh

Dialogue magazine of the Asian American Arts Alliance

Jean Shin and Zarina Hashmi urge us to reconsider what lies at the core of dominant conceptions of memory and home. Zarina's prints and sculptures draw from a depository of personal experience. Shin, meanwhile, aims to capture a collective notion of memory as lived by countless anonymous individuals. These histories, rendered through groupings of disembodied found objects, pare down human experience to an essential form, The colorful proliferation of objects from Shin's fabric world — sewn, stripped, and stuffed into crowded configurations — stands in stark contrast to Zarina's spare black and white abstractions. Yet both artists are deeply invested in evoking concrete, emotionally charged experience through the absence of figurative or anecdotal narrative. In doing so, their work points to memory's fault-line — the process of remembering and its fundamental inability to access moments of lived experience. 

Zarina Hashmi (who goes by Zarina), was born and received her initial education in Aligarh, India. She spent the next forty years living and exhibiting in various places outside of India. Her work has been included in Out of India, a seminal exhibition of diasporic South Asian art at the Queens Museum, New York, and in numerous shows throughout Europe, India and the United States. Zarina's initial training in mathematics and architecture has had a strong impact on her formal artistic strategies. Her woodblock prints and paper sculptures combine words with an abstract visual language of intersecting marks and lines. Using the formal vocabulary of minimalism, she presents subtle and complex articulations of home. 

Home is a Foreign Place, a recent exhibition of Zarina's work at Admit One Gallery, New York, unsettles traditional understandings about the structure and function of home. The notion of home as a stable and permanent dwelling place which is always accessible, and to which the subject will inevitably return, can no longer be sustained. The series of 36 woodcuts insist on home as a fluid construct, always in flux and subject to intersecting conditions of migration, nature, time, and emotion. The series is comprised of six sets of six prints each, which visualise key images and ideas linked to notions of home and migration via the lens of nature, architecture, time and emotion. 

Language plays a key role in Zarina's project, functioning both as a tool to comment upon memory and displacement and as a foil to this very ability to represent. Words do not simply serve a descriptive purpose. Written in Urdu and embedded within the image itself, they act as symbolic markings that form a private lexicon of visual vocabulary. In the process, poetry emerges from the fluid link between word and gesture, confronting the viewer with a visual experience that illuminates the complexity, and impossibility, of adequately representing home.

Images that echo architectural blueprints and abstractions that evoke natural phenomenon and psychic states are woven together to gesture toward the diasporic subject's experience of related displacement. Home is a Foreign Place destabilizes home as a secure, interior space, carving out the shifting spatial, linguistic, and temporal boundaries that constitute it. In Zarina's world, home has no static boundaries, nor does it know limits. It comes into being through fragmented traces of memory and emotion that remain after all else has been chiseled away. 

Depicting lived experience through the visual language of remainders is likewise crucial in the work of Jean Shin. Like Zarina, Shin seeks out processes and materials that allow her to examine how individual and collective experiences are formed through the residues and traces that they leave behind. Born in Seoul, Korea, Shin immigrated with her family to the United States as a young child and currently lives and works in 

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Above: Zarina, Time (1999); right: Home (1999) Photos courtesy Admit One Gallery

spring/summer 2001 >a
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