Altered Inheritances
Home is a Foreign Place

Shilpa Gupta and Zarina

March 18–July 13 2019

home is of course here—and always a missed land.
–Land, Agha Shahid Ali

Altered Inheritances: Home is a Foreign Place (March 18–July 13, 2019) complicates notions of home and belonging with poetic and personal reflections on how geographical dislocation affects ordinary lives. The starting points are around the borders of South Asia, but with an awareness of impermanence and mobility as globally resonant experiences.

The exhibition title resonates with the condition of being South Asian in the Gulf; at home, but yet elsewhere. In Altered Inheritances – 100  (Last Name) Stories (2014), Gupta traces individuals who changed their last names either to succeed, or to survive. A linear presentation of images is layered with the reasons that names were shed, and then split in half, evoking a sharp break with the past. The words on each of 36 monochrome woodcuts are "triggers for memory" in Zarina’s Home is a Foreign Place (1999), expressing a quiet yearning for a home she could not return to. The architectural staging of the two-person exhibition is inspired by the floorplan of her childhood home, creating intimate spaces for almost forty works presented in both formal and conceptual affinity. In a video by Sophie Ernst, Zarina recollects how she and her family inhabited its spaces until forced to leave in the violent aftermath of 1947 when India became independent from Britain and Pakistan was cleaved from it, with borders that remain politically tense and divisive.

Zarina and Gupta attempt to rethink mapping as a comprehensible measure of either distance or allegiance, trying to understand its relationship to violence and separation. Their conceptual approaches echo each other in their leaning toward metaphor and allusion, visual restraint and in choices of material—string, cloth, paper, gold. While Zarina’s imagery remains abstract, Gupta’s work relates more directly to contested territories, informal economies and clandestine crossings; in Drawings Made in the Dark 2015, simple lines describe the dangerous paths across border territories. A resident of New York, Zarina responded to 9/11 with works that map a trajectory of violence from Delhi to Beirut into Sarajevo through Kabul, ending with the dark forms of the twin towers. These Cities Blotted Into the Wilderness 2003 takes its title from the nineteenth century poet Ghalib’s lament for Delhi. The companion piece An Altas of My World 2001 is titled after Adrienne Rich’s book of poems reflecting on hardship within America. 

Zarina cites from Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Muhammad Iqbal, or references Mahmoud Darwish, melancholic yet revealing a complex engagement with her literary and intellectual world. Meanwhile, poems of resistance have been spoken and sealed into bottles by Gupta; these trapped words could become messages, preserved for a future generation to rediscover. The exhibition texts draw on poems by Meena Alexander, Agha Shahid Ali, Tishani Doshi, Kabir, and Zehra Nigah. Together, they suggest that while borders can tear apart and separate, there is yet an imaginative world beyond, in the words of Rabrindranath Tagore, "Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls."

Shilpa Gupta (b.1976) lives and works in Mumbai, India where she has studied sculpture at the Sir J. J. School of Fine Arts from 1992 to 1997. She has had solo shows at the Contemporary Arts Center Cincinnati, Arnolfini Bristol, OK in Linz, Museum voor Moderne Kunst Arnhem, Voorlinden Museum and Lalit Kala Akademi New Delhi. She presented a solo project at ‘My East is Your West’, a joint India-Pakistan exhibition by the Gujral Foundation in Venice in 2015. Her work has been shown in international institutions such as the Tate Modern and Serpentine Gallery in London, New Museum in New York; Berlin Biennale 2014, Sharjah Biennial 2013, Gwangju Biennale 2015, 2008, Liverpool Biennial 2006, Havana 2006, 2015, Sydney 2006 and currently showing at Kochi Biennale 2018.

Her work is in the collection of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Centre Georges Pompidou, Mori Museum, Louisiana Museum, Bristol Art Museum, Louis Vuitton Foundation, Asia Society, Astrup Fearnley Museum, Fonds National d'Art Contemporain - France, KOC Collection, Kiran Nadar Museum and Devi Art Foundation among others.

Shilpa Gupta's work engages with the defining power of social and psychological borders on public life. Her work makes visible the aporias and incommensurabilities in the emerging national public sphere in India. She reveals the power of state apparatuses, and the lure of social homogeneity and ideas of public consensus enabled by emerging mediascapes. She often works in public spaces and installed We Change Each Other 2017, an outdoor light work in her neighbourhood on Carter Road, Mumbai. Gupta has been invited to the 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia curated by Ralph Rugoff in 2019.

Zarina (b. 1937) was born in Aligarh, India and has lived and worked in New York for many years. 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 has 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, and at the Guggenheim, New York, and the Art Institute of Chicago in 2013.

Her work is in the permanent collections of the Tate Modern, London; the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Menil Collection, Houston.

Best known as a printmaker, Zarina prefers to carve instead of drawing the line, to gouge the surface rather than build it up. She has used various mediums of printmaking including intaglio, woodblocks, lithography, and silkscreen, and she frequently creates series of several prints in order to reference a multiplicity of locales or concepts. Zarina also creates sculpture using a variety of media such as bronze, aluminium, steel, wood, tin and paper pulp.

Zarina’s work 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 chronicles her life and recurring themes include home, displacement, borders, journey and memory.