Nasreen Mohamedi, Untitled, ca. (1975) Ink and graphite on paper, Sikander & Hydari Collection
Nasreen Mohamedi is given a worthy retrospective that inaugurated The Met Breuer in New York this year, an extension of the Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to modern and contemporary works. Melissa Budasz discovers her work for the first time and reflects on her visit.
“I feel the need to simplify” 1
Nasreen Mohamedi Diary entry
Entering the Met Breuer and the galleries that display the work of Nasreen Mohamedi (1937-90) is a rich mix of photos, drawings, diary pages and paintings. This is a beautifully curated show with a large body of work from an artist that created a richly introspective and meditative abstract art. This is the first museum retrospective of Mohamedi’s work in the USA, formerly it was at The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid (2015), at the Tate Liverpool (2014) and began at the Nadar Museum of Art, Delhi (2013).
Born in Karachi (formerly India, now Pakistan) into a Muslim family that encouraged education for women, her family later moved to Bombay (now Mumbai). Mohamedi studied fine art at 16 years old at St Martin’s (now Central St Martin’s UAL) and lived in Paris for 2 years before returning back to Mumbai, finally settling in Baroda. This exposure to European art and artists had an impact on her work, especially Minimalism, but it is her relationships with two successful Indian artists that had a greater influence on her development – M.F. Husain (1915-2011) who was a founding member of The Progressive Artists Group of Bombay and V.S. Gaitonde (1924-2001) regarded as one of India’s foremost abstract painters and also a member of the Bombay Group.
Mohamedi predominantly focused on drawing as a means to investigate what mattered to her – in her repetitive use of grids, fluctuating lines and obsession with light and shade. Her photography is the tool for her visual diary which feeds directly into her drawings.
More than 130 of Mohamedi’s paintings, drawings, and photographs, as well as rarely seen diaries, are brought together from collections around the world in order to trace the evolution of her aesthetic approach and the shifts in her artistic practice 2
The scale is not large, this modest approach adds to the intimacy when you view and read the work which is executed with precision – lines not marks and no colour, only black on white. She rarely signed and dated her work, (nor exhibited it) and refused to theorise her art, leaving it open-ended and mainly untitled. It’s a remarkable feat that this collection (that has been collated and gathered from scholars from international and private collections) has been put together to bring back to life her art career. She is known as a major voice in post independent India (1947) and is the first wave of Indian artists to gain recognition on the international scene. Mohamedi suffered from Huntington disease – a neuromuscular impairment that progressively diminished her physically and which took her life early (at 53).
Her roots are in Islamic traditions of abstraction 3
Michael Fitzgerald, Wall Street Journal
Mohamedi’s diaries reveal references to Nietzsche and Camus, Klee and Kandinsky, and they lean to Sufi and Zen traditions,
“They reveal a thoughtful and intense process. They have a quality of a Haiku or a Rumi saying” 4
She was widely read and travelled and although it may never have been her intention to exhibit the photos she took, they become a rich source of reference for her pencil and graphite drawings and in the later pen and ink drawings.
With such little guidance from her – in a title, date, self publication – this absence allows the viewer to contemplate her work as it is; the spatial relationships, the inner dialogue and the contours of her imagination. A fine mind.
Melissa Budasz review for
ArtVerve – on women’s art | An SLWA Publication | Issue 6 | Oct 2016