For nearly half a century, Zarina has explored the notion of home, be it the space between four walls, the familiar script of a mother tongue, or the constancy of the horizon line. Her life and the places that define it are the subject of her art, and her particular story – that of an immigrant, a traveler, and a citizen of the world – is one that resonates widely.
Best known as a printmaker, Zarina also creates sculptural installations, collages, and other unique works on paper. Her compositions are precise and refined, yet never austere by virtue of carefully chosen materials such as handmade paper, gold leaf, and sumi ink. Paper is fundamental to her practice and, as evidenced by the impressive 50-part portfolio Folding House, it can be manipulated in countless ways. In each of these collages, fragments of paper from discarded projects are torn, cut, dyed, gilded, and burnt to represent home in all its strength and fragility. As a set, it also constitutes an index of Zarina’s previous meditations on the house and the title alludes to a kind of closure.
The prevalence of black and gold throughout the exhibition reflects the artist’s preoccupation with despair and hope, as well as the infinite and the divine. Works such as Abyss and Aleppo poignantly reference the turmoil of world politics, of borders in dispute and cities under siege. Other pieces such as the golden collages Ascent and Pillar signal an embrace of the spiritual. Descending Darkness, from which the exhibition takes its title, is a sculptural installation of dozens of light bulbs carved in black marble and gilded in pewter leaf. Materially seductive, yet devoid of luminosity, it speaks to the artist’s contemplation of mortality. Impending darkness is a somber prospect, but one that may inspire introspection and a turning inwards. Through this exhibition, Zarina continues her journey into the self and in doing so, touches on themes universal to us all.
Zarina (b. 1937) is from Aligarh, India and currently lives and works in New York. After receiving a degree in mathematics, she went on to study woodblock printing in Bangkok and Tokyo, and intaglio with S. W. Hayter at Atelier-17 in Paris. She has exhibited at numerous venues internationally including representing India at the 2011 Venice Biennale, and her retrospective exhibition entitled Zarina: Paper Like Skin was presented at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles in 2012, and at the Guggenheim, New York, and the Art Institute of Chicago in 2013. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Tate Modern, London; the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.