Zarina lived in Bangkok, Delhi, Paris, Bonn, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Santa Cruz before settling in New York in 1976. Although she also works in sculpture and drawing, woodcuts have been of primary importance in her work over the last several decades. Each of the sheets in Home Is a Foreign Place bears an abstract image and a word printed in Urdu, the artist's mother tongue. The terms she chose, such as "threshold," "border," "country" and "door," paired with her minimal images, create a lexicon relating to the theme of home.
Gallery label from Mind and Matter: Alternative Abstractions, 1940s to Now, May 5–August 16, 2010.
Born in Aligarh, India, to a Muslim family, Zarina grew up aware of the political and religious struggles between her native country and neighboring Pakistan, a majority-Muslim state, which had gained its independence from the majority-Hindu India in 1947. She left Aligarh in her early twenties and lived in Bangkok, Delhi, Paris, Bonn, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Santa Cruz before settling in New York in 1976. In Home Is a Foreign Place, she reflects upon her faraway childhood home. “This piece is my narrative of the house I was born in and left in my early twenties never to return,” she once explained.
Home Is a Foreign Place consists of 36 woodblock prints, each of which features a geometric, monochromatic design. To make these images, Zarina wrote a list of words that she considered meaningful, such as “axis,” “distance,” “road,” and “wall.” She sent the list to a calligrapher in Pakistan, who wrote them in the traditional nastaliq script used for manuscripts in her native Urdu language. Back in her New York studio, Zarina developed what she has described as “idea-images, which flowed from these words.” The resulting images serve as a visual vocabulary expressing her feelings of home, memory, and loss. “I understood from a very early age that home is not necessarily a permanent place,” Zarina said. “It is an idea we carry with us wherever we go. We are our homes.”