• Miriam Benjamin

Home is a Foreign Place (1999) by Zarina


"What is home?"


It's a question universally asked for centuries, whether or not we have an answer to it. Zarina chose to give her understanding of it through her work Home is a Foreign Place.

The minimalist artist was born in Aligarh, India in 1937 to a Muslim family. She grew up surrounded by the socio-political turmoil of the Partition and travelled the world in her twenties to eventually settle down in New York. In this art piece, she bittersweetly reminisces about the hometown she never returned to.


Zarina wrote down words that reminded her of childhood in traditional Nastaliq script and then added a simple monochromatic pattern to accompany it. Threshold, Time, Border, Father's House are a few of the 36 phrases found in this piece. To create the abstract images which symbolised various aspects of her childhood in India, Zarina made use of woodblock printing to give it a rough, straightforward character.


In the panel titled 'Afternoon', we see a simplified version of a ceiling fan, as it reminds Zarina of the scorching sunny afternoons of India, which cannot be fought off without a fan. 'Stillness' contains a single black line running horizontally through the panel. Zarina claims that humans are meant to travel, that they are nomadic creatures. “I think still is a death.”

A panel that particularly stood out to me is one titled 'Language' which shows a musical score filled with rests (which in layman's terms means silence). Zarina refers to her Native tongue Urdu, as people: dying people. This disappearing language is one of the few things Zarina carries with her from her childhood home.


With each panel thoughtfully placed, Zarina's Home is a Foreign Place is poignant and precise. It reflects the ephemeral nature of the concept of 'home' and the feeling of loss that the artist faces.


“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.”

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