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Lines of Inquiry: Partition, Historiography and the Art of Zarina Hashmi


This paper examines Dividing Line (2001), a woodcut print by the contemporary Indian artist Zarina Hashmi, in relation to a history of Partition, the division of the Indian subcontinent in August 1947 that gave rise in part to the Islamic state of Pakistan. An abstracted rendering of the Indo-Pakistani border, Dividing Line, as this paper argues, not only presents an important pathway into the discussions around the place of Partition in the overall analysis of modern and contemporary South Asian art, but also raises significant questions around what the artist or the visual arts can uniquely contribute to the writing and understanding of Partition history in the present, a vexed and fragile historical terrain. This paper posits that Dividing Line can be understood as a historiographical threshold, a space upon which divergent and marginal histories of Partition converge. I argue, more specifically, that Zarina's use of cartography and her tendency towards abstraction in Dividing Line not only exhibits a unique capacity to both recognize and `map' the tensions and contradictions inherent to the historiography of Partition but also enables an endless dialectic around Partition `history' and `memory' through which fixed understandings of Partition can then be challenged and unsettled in powerful and productive ways.

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