New Delhi: New York-based Indian artist Zarina Hashmi, best known for creating simple, minimalist, yet powerful works, passed away on Saturday at her niece’s home in London, following a long illness. She was 83.
“She passed away after a long illness, but she died peacefully, in London where she was living with her niece and nephew,” Delhi-based gallerist and Hashmi’s friend Renu Modi told PTI.
Modi, who has known and represented the artist for over two decades, said it was difficult to “quantify the loss.
“Zarina was one of the foremost artists of her generation, a pioneer who lived and created art on her own terms, drawing from her life, and true, always, to her own convictions and singular artistic vision.
“The stark minimalism of her visual language was ahead of the times when she first began exploring it in the 1960s and 1970s, but their simplicity and quiet meditativeness speak to all of us today grappling with a world in disarray,” Modi said.
“We were very close to each other, just like family. I would have long, very long conversations with her at least once a month, and we would talk about everything. Sometimes it would be about what’s happening around the world, sometimes it would be about her art, and at other times we would talk about something as mundane as clothes,” she added.
Born in Aligarh in 1937, much of Hashmi’s works are marked by the aftermath of the Partition and the experience of exile.
Married to Saad Hashmi, who was in the Foreign Services, the artist travelled the world and lived in many different cities, an experience that manifested in her art.
She began to incorporate maps in her works, which expanded to include the topographical details of cities whose histories have been torn due to political conflicts Aligarh, New Delhi, New York, Baghdad, Kabul.
“Her work can be instantly recognised through its minimalism. She said everything using the simplicity of her lines,” Modi said.
During her long illustrious career, Hashmi showcased her works across the globe including at Modi’s Gallery Espace (New Delhi); Galerie Jaeger Bucher (Paris); Museum of Modern Art (New York), Mills College Museum (Oakland); and Alana Gallery (Oslo).
According to curator Uma Nair, India and the world lost a “phenomenal abstractionist” in the passing away of Hashmi.
She understood “the context of materials, mediums, history, and memory,” Nair, who wrote catalogues for two of Hashmi’s shows, said.
“Between her woodcuts and intaglios her works had an aura that was minimalist and magical for its silence. She invited a quiet mood, an emotion that spoke of sculptural dignity, and a deeper understanding of politics and history. I wrote her catalogues for two shows in 2006. I was a fledgeling but never did she let me feel it.
“Zarina’s was a quest of individuality, one that has grown out of her own meditative moorings, one that has refused to be bogged down by time and one that has found its own artistic integrity because of its silent intensity. Her life embodied that signature,” Nair said.
Several other members of the art fraternity took to Twitter to express their condolences.
Artist Ranjit Hoskote, who had curated the India Pavillion at 2011 Venice Biennale, which Hashmi was a part of, said it was a “privilege” to have worked with her.
“She was 10 when borders not of her choosing changed her life; she spent her life defying borders and the exclusionary claims of territories, learning from diverse teachers, always true to the compass of a lost home. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un.
“Heartbroken to hear that Zarina Hashmi has passed away in London. She was magnificent: full of wit and shrewd wisdom, her work imbued with a tragic vision. I was privileged to have her as one of my artists in India’s first-ever national pavilion at the Venice Biennale, 2011. RIP,” he tweeted.
The National Gallery of Modern Art (Delhi) also put out a tweet mourning the artist’s death.
“NGMA expresses deepest heartfelt condolences upon the passing away of Zarina Hashmi (1937 to 2020) Her work spans drawing, printmaking, and sculpture,” it said.
Writer and dancer Poorna Swami said she loved Hashmi’s “sparse and captivating work”.
“Sad to hear that Zarina Hashmi passed away. I loved her sparse and captivating work. Though it would be incorrect to call her an “Indian” artist, she was, along with Nasreen Mohamedi, a woman abstractionist in a boys club. In a history of minimalism, it is usually men we hail,” Swami wrote.
Actress and author Lisa Ray also expressed her condolences.
“Very sad to learn of the passing of #ZarinaHashmi a legend of the art world. Her ability to distil emotion into singular images and forms will resonate on and on,” she wrote.
Hashmi won several accolades during her artistic career, including the Residency Award at the New York University’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute and Artist in Residence at the University of Richmond, both in 2017. She also received the President’s Award for Printmaking, India in 1969.