Memory is the only lasting possession we have. I have made my life the subject of my work, using the images of home, the places I have visited, and the stars I have looked up to. I just want a reminder that I did not imagine my experiences.
Top Row – Left to Right: Zarina, Aslam, Saeeda, Kishwar (Rani)
Bottom Row – Left to Right: Fahmida, Abdur Rasheed
Sheikh Abdur Rasheed, Zarina's father, was a history professor at the Aligarh Muslim University in India. Although originally from Punjab, he fell in love with Aligarh and decided to make a life there. Zarina had four siblings, two brothers, and two sisters. Her eldest brother (Hamid) passed away when he was very young.
Fahmida Begum, Zarina's mother, was born in Sialkot, near the border of Kashmir. Fahmida was married before she could attend college.
Rasheed wanted the children to be raised in Aligarh, as he felt that Aligarh would provide them with a better intellectual and cultural environment. In large part, it was growing up in this environment that motivated Zarina and her elder sister Rani (Kishwar) to pursue their higher education. Zarina earned an undergraduate degree in Mathematics while Rani (Kishwar) completed a graduate degree in History and studied law. Such paths were uncommon for women at the time.
Zarina's childhood house was built of unbaked bricks, and it was her whole universe growing up.
Each section had its own bathroom, dressing room, and long veranda. The courtyard was an integral part of the house. On special occasions, like Eid or weddings, when large quantities of food needed to be prepared, my mother would cook out in the courtyard.
Rani (my sister) and I spent countless afternoons there. The sense of being enclosed within the courtyard’s four walls was an opportunity to reflect on life. On summer nights, we would sleep under the stars and plot our journeys in life. Sometimes it would keep us awake until the sunlight faded the stars from our vision.
Father's House, 1994
House at Aligarh (AMU Housing)
Zarina was very close to her older sister, Rani. Their special bond made them inseparable, and Zarina viewed Rani as a mother figure of sorts. They worked on several projects together, and Zarina would always seek Rani's advice in both personal and professional matters.
In 1958, at just 21 years of age, Zarina married Saad Hashmi. Saad was Rani's classmate at AMU. He was a smart, bright young man in the foreign service. Saad's postings took Zarina around the world. Like all marriages, theirs had ups and downs, but she loved what her marriage provided – the freedom to travel, meet new people, and immerse herself in different cultures.
Saad's first posting was in Bangkok. Zarina was inspired by the golden spires of the temples, making them even brighter with the sun's reflection. Many years' later, uncharacteristically, she used gold in her works.
In 1977, while stationed in New York, Saad passed away at the age of 45 while on a trip to Delhi. It was at this juncture in her life that Zarina with the support of her sister Rani and her husband, and her friends Clare, Humra, Judy, and Krishna, decided to stay in New York and make a life there.
Rani and her husband, Mashkoor Chishti were unwavering in their support of Zarina after Saad. They not only provided emotional support but also spiritual advice. Mr. Chishti, a descendant of the Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti influenced greatly her interest in Sufism. From 1977 to 2013, Zarina spent nearly every other summer or winter at the Chishti's house in Karachi, Pakistan.
Zarina did not have any children but treated Rani's children as her own. Saima and Imran have always been very close to Zarina and lovingly called her "Munni Ami," which means "Little Mother".
Before her passing, one of Rani's last wishes to her children was to make sure they took care of her sister, Zarina.
Due to her declining health, Zarina now spends most of her time in London with her niece, Saima, and nephew, Imran. She enjoys spending time being surrounded by family there, especially her great-grandniece, Shanaya.
Family has been the cornerstone of Zarina’s inspirations. One of her most personal and iconic pieces of artwork titled Letters from Home. Is a compilation of six unposted letters written by Rani to Zarina. Years later, Rani shared these letters with her during one of their visits together. The letters recounted the death of their parents, the selling of Rani's home, the sadness she felt after her children moved away, and how much she missed Zarina's presence throughout those trying times.
For all of the cities that Zarina lived in and was inspired by, please see "Cities I Called Home."
Saad and Zarina
A1. Zarina, Directions to My House (Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU, 2018)