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Migration and Movement

Artists move around the world, shifting and fusing their identities, cultural traditions, and artistic techniques.

Home Is a Foreign Place

(American, born India 1937)

1999. Portfolio of 36 woodcuts and letterpress, mounted on paper, composition (each): 8 x 6" (20.3 x 15.2 cm); sheet (each): 16 x 13" (40.7 x 33 cm)

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. Zarina, once explained: “This piece is my narrative of the house I was born in and left in my early twenties never to return.”1

Home Is a Foreign Place consists of 36 woodblock prints, each of which presents a geometric, monochromatic design. To make these images, Zarina jotted down a list of Urdu 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. Back in her New York studio, Zarina developed what she has described as “idea-images, which flowed from these words.” The resultant images serve as a visual vocabulary to express 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.”2

MoMA Artist Questionnaire
Theresa Harlan, “Zarina: Embodiments of Home/Imprints of Existence”
“Paper Houses” catalogue, “A Conversation with Zarina in New York,” interview with Geeti Sen

A traditional form of calligraphy used mostly for Persian, Urdu, and Malay manuscripts.

A term loosely applied to any printmaking technique involving a relief image cut into the surface of a wooden block. The wood is covered with ink and applied to a sheet of paper; only the uncut areas of the block will print, while the cut away areas do not receive ink and appear white on the printed image.

A spoken, written, or visual account of an event or a series of connected events.

Having a single color. A work of art rendered in only one color.

Resembling or using the simple rectilinear or curvilinear lines used in geometry.

“I am drawn to natural mediums such as wood, clay, and paper,” said Zarina. “You can discover a fault here or there, you can find gradations in color.”3

Signs and Spirituality
Zarina once said, “In these prints I have used the forms I have worked with over the years, in a way my sign language of the line, vertical and horizontal, the diagonal, the triangle, the circle and the square. All deal with basic geometry. I regard geometry as a sacred practice.”4


AUDIO: Zarina discusses Home Is Foreign Place