Zarina: Paper Like Skin

Review by Owen Schmit




I am staring at the Caribbean ocean from under a palapa. There is considerable breeze coming from the direction of the water but it is definitely upwards of eighty-five degrees with what feels like one hundred percent humidity. I am really sweaty. The breeze feels more like a panting animal and I swear it’s flowing through my skin as opposed to bouncing off of it. It’s kind of gross and kind of comfortable; so different than the dryness of Southern California. I am used to understanding my body to be a separate entity from the atmosphere, whereas here I could see myself dispersing on an atomic level into the air (or the water, they feel so similar).


Zarina: Paper Like Skin, this catalogue, has a front and back cover made of a fibrous gray cardboard, and seems to be enduring/ enjoying a comparable encounter with the Caribbean atmosphere as me. The pages are damp and rippling and the cover is borderline soggy. Where the edge rests on my abdomen it is notably expanded. It seems odd to try to understand the presentation of a show firmly rooted in the use of paper when the paper of the catalog itself is totally on the fritz.


Beyond my experience of the content of the catalog, I am acutely aware of the paper that makes up the physical book, and it’s not easy to get into the intricacies of different kinds of paper and paper treatments through reproductions. However I find that what is lacking for me in the plates is recovered in curator Allegra Pesenti’s discussion of the medium, which forefronts the connection between the autobiographical elements of the work and Zarina’s choice of materials. Likewise, a potentially alienating element of the work is Zarina’s use of Urdu text, which is richly fleshed out by Aamir R. Mufti. Paper becomes a vehicle of memory, and language becomes a multifaceted lifeline to home.


I am thinking about home, too. In general, I am affected by changes in temperature, altitude, sounds, even directional orientation. Here, everything feels wrong when I watch the sun rise over the ocean… I might be overly sensitive. And while I am sensitive to these types of things, they are also things that make travel exciting for me. This hyperawareness to my surroundings is a luxurious, moment-to-moment discovery of the types of things that get passed by when I’m in a daily routine of rushing around through familiar tasks and territories. Being displaced becomes a very reflective space. It forces one think about home, what home is, how home defines us. And because one of the strongest currents that runs through Zarina’s entire career is displacement and her relationship to home from afar, reading the catalog while in a place so different from my home (I watched a giant hermit crab trudge across the lounge of my hotel last night while having a quiet drink), seems wholly appropriate.




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Allegra Pesenti (with contributions from Aamir R. Mufti and Sandhini Poddar), Zarina: Paper Like Skin, (Prestel Publishing, 2012)

Cover and Images: from Zarina: Paper Like Skin, Prestel Publishing (2012)