top of page

Zarina Hashmi’s Work Haunted by the 1947 Partition of India

Zarina Hashmi, a name that resonates within contemporary art, is often hailed as a pathfinder who surpassed borders geographically and artistically. Zarina was an Indian American artist and printmaker living in New York City.

Zarina Hashmi’s art wasn't just about lines and shapes; it was a powerful language that spoke to the heart and soul of everyone who encountered it.

Let's explore the life and artistic contributions of Zarina Hashmi, whose work has left an indelible mark on the global art scene.

Early Years and Formative Experiences

Zarina Rashid, born on 16 July 1937 in Aligarh, India, to Sheikh Abdur Rashid and Fahmida Begum, had a childhood steeped in the vibrant heritage of India. Growing up, she had a wonderful childhood and a supportive family. She was very close to her sister, Rani, who passed away in 2013.

In 1958, after earning a mathematics degree with honors from Aligarh Muslim University, Zarina embarked on a new chapter by moving to Bangkok, having married distinguished diplomat Saad Hashmi at 21.

Her travels exposed her to diverse cultures, laying the groundwork for the multicultural themes that would define her artistic journey. Zarina's thirst for knowledge led her to study various printmaking methods in Thailand, at Atelier 17 studio in Paris under Stanley William Hayter, and with printmaker Tōshi Yoshida in Tokyo, Japan. Her journey eventually brought her to New York City, where she lived and worked, weaving together the threads of her rich experiences into the fabric of her artistic expression.

Crossing Borders: A Life in Transit

Moving to Bangkok in the 1950s changed Zarina's life. The lively city, filled with different cultures, became a big part of her artistic journey. While there, she learned woodblock printing, a special technique that became her unique way of creating art.

Bangkok's busy streets and diverse traditions inspired her a lot. She loved the mix of cultures around her, and this excitement fueled her creativity. With woodblock printing, she could powerfully express her feelings. This time in Bangkok was crucial for Zarina, as it set the stage for the amazing artwork she would create later. It was a special chapter in her life and art.

Artistic Evolution: The Language of Minimalism

As Zarina journeyed deeper into her art, she found comfort in simplicity, embracing minimalism. Her creations showcased neat lines, precise geometry, and careful attention to detail. This simplicity wasn't just about looks; it was a purposeful way of telling intricate stories and expressing emotions clearly.

Zarina's art was shaped by her identity as a Muslim-born Indian woman and a life filled with constant travel. Drawing inspiration from Islamic religious decoration, she incorporated the regular geometry seen in Islamic architecture.

The early abstract and sparse geometric style in her art has often been likened to the work of minimalists like Sol LeWitt. In this way, Zarina's art became a unique language, merging her identity and personal experiences into a visual narrative of simplicity and depth.

Personal Narratives and Cultural Threads

Zarina Hashmi's art was like a storybook about her life. It was filled with her experiences as a woman, someone who moved to a new country, and a person with many different cultural backgrounds. As a person who moved to a new place, Zarina Hashmi’s art could connect with anyone who felt the sadness of leaving their home. In Zarina's art, her personal stories and different cultural parts are all weaved together, creating a beautiful picture that sings the song of her extraordinary life.

Depiction of Home

Zarina's art is all about moving and finding a place to call home.

  • One artwork, "Father's House 1898-1994" from 1994, is a drawing of the floor plan of her childhood home.

  • Another set of nine dark prints, called "Homes I Made/A Life in Nine Lines" from 1997, shows the different places Zarina lived as an adult.

  • In "Homes I Made" from 1984 to '92, she made tiny houses from aluminum and terracotta, and they had wheels!

  • The most famous one is "Home is A Foreign Place" from 1999. It's a group of 36 prints with things like a small drawing of her Aligarh home, a vertical line, a horizontal line, black triangles, cream squares, and crosses. These delicate shapes have Urdu words like "journey," "border," "road," and "time" next to them.

In these artworks, the idea of home keeps changing, just like in Zarina's own life.

The Intimate Cartographer: Maps as Metaphors

Zarina Hashmi's use of maps in her art is truly iconic. She didn't just see maps as tools to find places; she turned them into powerful symbols of human connections and disconnections. With detailed precision and subtle textures, she transformed maps into poetic representations, telling her own story and capturing the shared human experience.

Zarina delved into the idea of home as a fluid, abstract space that goes beyond physicality or location. Her works often included symbols evoking movement, diaspora, and exile. Take, for instance, her woodblock print titled "Paper Like Skin." In this piece, a thin black line winds its way upward across a white background, dividing the page diagonally. The line, reminiscent of a map, suggests a border between two places or a topographical chart of an ongoing journey.

In her Delhi series, Zarina created a woodcut print based on an engraving of Shajahanabad, the city as it stood before the siege of 1857. Through her art, she breathed life into historical moments, inviting viewers to connect with the past.

Impact of Partition: Uprooting

The separation of India in 1947 had a big impact on Zarina Hashmi. Her family, like many others, went through the tough experience of being forced to leave their homes. This important moment in history made her think a lot about borders and missing home.

Zarina made a detailed set of woodcut pictures called "Dividing Line" from 2001 that strongly show the pain and confusion of the separation. A sharp black line goes across a light page, reminding us of the Radcliffe Line. This was the line drawn by Cyril Radcliffe, a British lawyer, which separated the Subcontinent. The same line appears in another woodcut, "Atlas of My World IV" from 2001, where a wavy black line goes outside the borders of the South Asia map, breaking it apart. (India and Pakistan are named in Urdu, which is Zarina's mother tongue.)

New York: A Crucible for Creativity

In 1975, Zarina Hashmi moved to New York City, a lively place with lots of different cultures and art influences. The city's exciting vibe inspired her a lot, making her even more creative.

Right in the middle of the art scene, she found a way to show her ideas and unique views. New York wasn't just a home; it became a special place where her creativity flourished. There, she mixed her personal stories with the city's diverse atmosphere, creating art that touched people all around the world.

The Intellectual Blend

In the eyes of Euro-American curators, Zarina Hashmi's art is like a thoughtful blend, bringing together "Eastern" philosophy, "Islamic" geometry, and "Western" abstraction. It satisfies their intellectual cravings for a fusion of diverse ideas. However, for South Asians, her work holds a deeper meaning.

Zarina, having experienced the collective trauma of partition, becomes a witness to our shared pain. Her art reflects the ongoing fractures in our identities, reminding us of the struggles and challenges we face as a community.

“Travels With Rani”

In the diptych "Travels With Rani" from 2008, Zarina Hashmi takes us on a journey back to the places she visited with her beloved sister. These prints vividly capture the essence of those memories. As you look at them, you'll notice how maps transform into abstract shapes, reminding us of the delicate curves found in Urdu calligraphy.

In a simple yet profound way, the artwork brings forth the intertwined nature of language and memory. It's a powerful reminder of the heart-wrenching separations and the poignant shadow of saying goodbye.

Worldwide Recognition and Legacy

Zarina's work received high recognition on the international stage. Exhibitions in prestigious galleries and museums brought her art to a wider audience, making her a pioneer in modern art. Her legacy keeps inspiring new artists to explore identity, culture, and art.

Zarina Hashmi became a “cosmopolitan superstar”, and her art is in places like Tate Modern in London, New York's Met Museum, MoMA, Guggenheim, and Whitney. Gallerists in New York, Paris, Delhi, and Karachi represented her.

In the last decade, she got lots of love from international places. Big shows about her happened at famous spots like Los Angeles' Hammer Museum (2012), the Guggenheim (2013), Chicago's Art Institute (2013), and St. Louis' Pulitzer Art Foundation (2020). She was also part of special group shows. In 2011, Ranjit Hoskote picked her for the first India Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, called "Everyone Agrees: It's About to Explode."


In the vast landscape of contemporary art, Zarina Hashmi stands as a luminary, her art a simple but strong expression of the complexities inherent in the human experience.

From the streets of Aligarh to the galleries of New York, her journey unfolded with a wealthy artistry woven with the threads of culture, identity, and memory. Thus, we recognize the profound impact of an artist who dared to traverse borders, both real and imagined, leaving an unfading mark on the canvas of artistic history.

Want to Know More about Celebrities. Sign Up Now!



Be the First to Expand Your
Intellectual Horizon!

bottom of page