At the hypnotic centre of one of Zarina Hashmi’s collages is a void that we can’t take our eyes off. Dark, heaving like an imperceptible tide, it stares back at us. A viewer could easily be sucked into this vortex, had it not been for the shimmering ring, flecked with pewter leaf, with which Hashmi has surrounded it. Blazoned on a black field, this ring seems like a heraldic symbol of defiance, a marker of assertion against the swallowing void. A single word, written at the bottom left of the work, transports this compelling play of abstraction into the world of urgent particularity: “Marginalized”.

We look at this work, Marginalized (2015), again. Is the dark void the world asleep, oblivious to the rim, the margin where the dislocated and dispossessed have been expelled, like unwanted cargo? I begin to wonder whether the work could be read differently. Might the void be a shadow that has eclipsed the sun? That would turn the pewter-leaf rim into a corona, stubborn radiance escaping the blotting dark? Might the site of anguish and desperation not – at least potentially – be a site of hope and rebirth?

As I write the word “corona”, to refer to the bright ring that defies a solar eclipse, I realise that we will perhaps never use it to refer to anything other than the pandemic that has rampaged across the planet this year. And yet, uncannily enough, the corona virus has its own connection to displacement. While the crisis has imposed house arrest on those of us who have a place we can call home, there are thousands who have been turned into refugees in their own land. Forced to leave the big cities, abandoned by a callous government, they walk home to their villages, fearful and hungry, covering hundreds of kilometres along deserted highways. A policeman in Budaun shouts “kood” and a group of migrants, burdened with their backpacks, are humiliated into leap-frogging under the baton. They are at the rim of the void.

Nancy Adajania is a curator, the author of The Thirteenth Place: Positionality as Critique in the Art of Navjot Altaf, Shilpa Gupta and co-author of The Dialogues Series.

Read the other articles in the Art of Solitude series here.