An artist who lived in New York from the 1970s until shortly before her passing away in 2020, Zarina was born in Aligarh, India, before the 1947 Partition. The scission came when she was child, and while she grew up in India, the area her family hailed from was now in Pakistan, and over the years some moved to Pakistan, some stayed in India. She speaks of the void left in her by this drawing of lines—not just the national border, but how people lined up on one side or the other: “You couldn’t just call them on the phone. You didn’t know when you would see them,” as travel between the two countries became increasingly difficult.
When I spoke to Zarina in October 2014 about her work in the Menil exhibition Experiments with Truth: Gandhi and Images of Nonviolence, she spoke about two authors she was reading: Theodor Adorno, the 20th-century German philosopher, “who says very much about what it’s like to have wounds,” and Rumi, the 13th-century poet and Sufi mystic who lived in Turkey and wrote in Persian. Zarina says that Rumi speaks to the way she understands the universe. And he is part of a broader Muslim culture, “a way of life” that she identifies with, rather than Islam as a religion (“I’ve been made a Muslim by others”).