Nasreen Mohamedi: Notes Reflections on Indian Modernism

Untitled, circa late 1970s, black and white photograph, 35.5x26.5cm Courtesy Private Collection and Talwar Gallery, New York and New Delhi


5 September - 15 November 2009

Milton Keynes Gallery presented a major solo exhibition of work by important Indian artist Nasreen Mohamedi. Her diary pages, drawings and photographs combine Western influences such as Paul Klee and Kasimir Malevich with Islamic architectural forms and a South Asian sensibility, resulting in an intensely personal body of work.

Born in Karachi, India (now Pakistan) in 1937, Mohamedi created a highly developed language from the 1950s to the 1980s. Early drawings often suggest plants and trees, before the artist focused on creating variations around the grid format; later works present free-floating geometric forms that evoke futuristic, mechanical or architectural devices.

These abstract forms were often developed in intricately detailed diaries, written throughout the artist’s life, where the written word morphs into personalised symbols, grids and diagonals. The artist traces or weaves regular patterns in her drawings, as if mapping a pulse or internal flow onto external phenomena. Her tightly cropped photographs seek out elemental forms such as the repetitive patterns found in the sea or landscapes as well as in the constructed world, in architecture and urban design.

Mohamedi studied at St Martins School of Art in London in the 1950s and travelled in Europe before returning to India in 1958. As well as familiarity with artists like Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, she brought knowledge of Russian Suprematism, British Constructivism and American Abstraction to bear on her own South Asian references, from Sufism to the Progressive Artists Group founded by F.N. Souza in Mumbai. She died in Kihim, India in 1990.

Mohamedi was one of the major discoveries at Documenta XII (Kassel, 2007), but her work remains surprisingly overlooked and her important position in the Modernist canon is still being affirmed.

This exhibition was an expanded version of Nasreen Mohamedi: Notes – Reflections on Indian Modernism, curated by Suman Gopinath and Grant Watson, organised and initiated by the Office for Contemporary Art, Norway in Oslo. It included an additional section of works from the artist’s estate and other collections, courtesy of Talwar Gallery, New York/Delhi. A variation of this exhibition travelled to Lunds Konsthall, Sweden.

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