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Migration and Movement

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

Home Is a Foreign Place

(American, born India 1937)

1999. Portfolio of 36 woodcuts with letterpress additions, 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. 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.1

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.”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 representation of a person or thing in a work of art.

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

Decorative handwriting or lettering.

A printmaking technique that involves printing an image from a carved plank of wood. The image is cut into the wood using tools such as chisels, gouges, and knives. Raised areas of the image are inked and printed, while cut away or recessed areas do not receive ink and appear blank on the printed paper. Woodcuts can be printed on a press or by hand, using a spoon or similar tool to rub the back of the paper.

A work of art on paper that usually exists in multiple copies. It is created not by drawing directly on paper, but through a transfer process. The artist begins by creating a composition on another surface, such as metal or wood, and the transfer occurs when that surface is inked and a sheet of paper, placed in contact with it, is run through a printing press. Four common printmaking techniques are woodcut, etching, lithography, and screenprint.

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

A work of art rendered in only one color.

The materials used to create a work of art, and the categorization of art based on the materials used (for example, painting [or more specifically, watercolor], drawing, sculpture).

A long mark or stroke.

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

The shape or structure of an object.

The perceived hue of an object, produced by the manner in which it reflects or emits light into the eye. Also, a substance, such as a dye, pigment, or paint, that imparts a hue.

“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

Sacred Signs
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