The work of Zarina is defined by her adherence to the personal and the essential. An early interest in architecture and mathematics is reflected in her use of geometry and her emphasis on structural purity. While her work tends towards minimalism, its starkness is tempered by its texture and materiality. Her art poignantly chronicled her life and recurring themes include home, displacement, borders, journey and memory.
Best known as a printmaker, Zarina preferred to carve instead of draw the line, to gouge the surface rather than build it up. She used various mediums of printmaking including intaglio, woodblocks, lithography, and silkscreen, and she frequently created series of several prints in order to reference a multiplicity of locales or concepts. Her seminal work Home is a Foreign Place for example, consists of 36 woodblock prints, each of which represents a particular memory of home. Each subject is inscribed in Urdu beneath the print to signify the vital role language played in her work, as well as to pay homage to a mother tongue in decline. Other works such as These Cities Blotted into the Wilderness (Adrienne Rich after Ghalib), Countries, and Dividing Line explore geographical borders and contested terrains, particularly those areas which are scarred from political conflict. She had a deep interest in the material possibilities of paper and in addition to printing on it, she created works which entail puncturing, scratching, weaving and sewing on paper. Zarina also created sculpture using a variety of media such as bronze, aluminum, steel, wood, tin, and paper pulp.
Zarina (1937–2020) was born in Aligarh, India, and after years of itinerant moving, she settled in New York where she lived and worked for over four decades. After receiving a degree in mathematics, she went on to study woodblock printing in Bangkok and Tokyo, and intaglio with S. W. Hayter at Atelier-17 in Paris. She exhibited at numerous venues internationally including representing India at the 2011 Venice Biennale, and her retrospective exhibition entitled Zarina: Paper Like Skin was presented at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles in 2012, followed by the Guggenheim, New York as well as the Art Institute of Chicago in 2013. Her work is in the permanent collections of Tate Modern, London; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; and The Menil Collection, Houston. Most recently, she was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, St. Louis, MO (2019-2020).