Critics’ Picks

Nasreen Mohamedi, Untitled, 1970, ink and graphite on paper, 18 3/4 x 18 3/4”.

Nasreen Mohamedi, Untitled, 1970, ink and graphite on paper, 18 3/4 x 18 3/4”.

New Delhi

Nasreen Mohamedi

Kiran Nadar Museum of Art
145, DLF South Court Mall, Saket
January 31–November 30, 2013

This large-scale retrospective—the artist’s second posthumous exhibition in India—of 135 drawings, paintings, and photographs by Karachi-born Nasreen Mohamedi (1937–1990) stands out among a trio of shows the museum has ambitiously organized to explore links among artwork by women of South Asian descent over the last century. Educated in London and Paris, Mohamedi eventually settled in India by the early 1970s, when she began combining expressive brushwork and collage to produce atmospheric landscapes. A pithy quote from her diary sums up the ethos of the rest of her career: “The Maximum out of the Minimum.”

Indeed, Mohamedi eventually eschewed representation—the predominant style in postpartition India—and by the ’70s embraced the pared-down aesthetic of ruled lines, using pen and pencil and square seven-by-seven inch sheets of paper. Her use of lines, however, was never geometric even when composed in grid-like formations, as in an untitled drawing from 1970. A decade later, Mohamedi jettisoned the grid altogether and began drawing free-floating chevrons, diagonal lines, half circles, and arcs on rectangular grounds, evoking the mechanistic and futuristic as much as the ethereal and metaphysical. Thick and thin, light and dark, and irregularly spaced, these lines often suggest a volume of nothingness.

A highlight of the exhibition is the reconstruction of Mohamedi’s studio, which includes a low-hanging light, a desk designed by the artist, and implements of various kinds. Even classical Indian music was a feature of her working environment; playing here, it suggests a blurring of art and life. This also is apparent in her tightly cropped black-and-white prints of wet sand, road markings, and other urban architectural sites, which give us a glimpse into how the artist experienced the world: as repetitive forms of lines uncannily hovering somewhere between representation and abstraction.