Critics’ Picks

Front and Inside cover page of Vrishchik Magazine, 1971-72, with Nasreen Mohamedi’s linocut featured on the cover.

Front and Inside cover page of Vrishchik Magazine, 1971-72, with Nasreen Mohamedi’s linocut featured on the cover.


Nasreen Mohamedi

The Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation (JNAF)
159/161, Mahatma Gandhi Road Second Floor, East Wing Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya
January 31–April 30, 2023

Nasreen Mohamedi (1937-1990) is most often portrayed as a recluse painstakingly laboring over her drawings while battling Huntington’s disease. The retrospective “The Vastness, Again & Again” looks to change this myopic view. Mohamedi is perhaps best known for her early works in ink and graphite: energetic arboreal forms that progressively became more calibrated, expounding a charged inner world through rhythmic lines and poignant ruptures. Curator Puja Vaish diversifies this reading, injecting an uncharacteristic burst of color by including oil paintings and collages thought to have been made by the artist during her time in Paris in the early 1960s (Mohamedi left the bulk of her work untitled and undated.) More significantly, Vaish eschews the lone-genius narrative to center the reciprocal relationship between the artist and her peers, whose works are put into dialogue with Mohamedi’s within the exhibition space. In the late 1960s, Mohamedi was given a studio in the Bhulabhai Desai Memorial Institute in Bombay (now Mumbai), an interdisciplinary milieu of a kind that is sorely missed today. Among stalwarts M.F. Hussain, Ebrahim Alkazi, and Ravi Shankar, the young Mohamedi found an affinity for the masterful abstractions of V.S. Gaitonde, whose muted opaque landscapes may have influenced her own. Mohamedi’s strokes, however, reveal a continued predisposition toward lightness, her paint often transparent or lifted off the surface after application.

The most abundant archive of materials comes from the artist’s time in Baroda (now Vadodara), where she taught at the Faculty of Fine Arts between 1972 and 1988. A warmth permeates the photographs of her with her friends, colleagues, and students. There are delicate sketches on an ornate letterhead belonging to Bhupen Khakhar, a lengthy reflection on her work by Gulammohammed Sheikh, and letters to her dear friend Nilima Sheikh. Among exhibition announcements and reviews, one finds a cover leaf of Vrishchik magazine featuring a linocut by Mohamedi alongside an editorial roundup giving updates on artists’ protests against the bureaucracy of the Lalit Kala Academy. Vaish assembles the compelling case that despite Mohamedi’s fierce protection of her personal space, she was deeply engaged with the people and events around her. In upholding these soft markings of creative kinship, “The Vastness, Again & Again” makes the master abstractionist more approachable, allowing a rereading of her lines through an affinitive lens.