Paper Like Skin, an exhibit by the artist Zarina, is not the flashiest on view at the Guggeheim at the moment, but in a quiet way, it got at issues that I find most compelling as a traveler: location, dislocation, deracination.
Zarina was born in India prior to the partition which created Pakistan, and spent most of her life away from her home. The woodcut here, called Dividing Line, is about the partition. Also, as a writer of a certain age — by which I mean, one who started writing on paper — I’m also very interested in artists that work in paper, upon which Zarina prints, pierces, casts, cuts, and covers with gold and obsidian.
At the heart of the Guggenheim show is a series of small pieces called Ten Thousand Things. Which gets its name from this poem fragment, printed on one of the small pieces:
When the ten thousand things have been seen in their unity, we return to the beginning and remain where we have always been. – T’sen Shen
I spent some time trying to find the source of this. T’sen Shen was a Chinese poet in the Tang dynasy, better known as Cen Shen, or Cen Can. The phrase “the ten thousand things” means the infinite nature of all reality. I’ve yet to see them all in their unity, but I got a sense that it might be possible at the Zarina exhibit.
P.S.: The Wall Street Journal has a good story about the artist and this exhibit.