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 Nasreen Mohammedi  (1937 - 1990)

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Lived/Active: India      Known for: painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Decades after her untimely death in 1990, Nasreen Mohamedi's high-modernist legacy continues to grow internationally. Since the turn of the millennium, her spare, subtle work?particularly her line drawings?have been the subject of several major solo retrospectives, including "The Grid, Unplugged" at Talwar Gallery in New York, "Lines Among Lines" at New York's Drawing Center, and an eponymously-titled show at the Milton Keynes Gallery, in the UK. Her work has also figured in numerous high-profile group shows at venues like the New York's Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the Walker Art Center, in Minneapolis, and in the Fifth Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, in Brisbane, Australia. Mohamedi was an iconoclast of modern Indian art. The clean, minimalist lines that would so define her work first emerged in her oil paintings, photographs and early drawings during a time when many of her contemporaries?from Bhupen Khakhar to Arpita Singh?were, as the critic Geeta Kapur puts it, "committed to augmenting [Indian art's] iconographic resources." Icons didn't interest Mohamedi: She was compelled by the poetics of pure abstraction, by clean, authorless geometries as representations of energy, of selfhood (or its absence), and of one's phenomenological experiences with nature. As Kapur adds, "Nasreen's intention apropos Indian art, if she can be said to have one, is to core the palpitating heart of the matter. Her target is the overweening romanticism of Indian art." Mohamedi was born in Karachi before the state of Pakistan was carved out of British colonial India. From a young age, her life was unequivocally cosmopolitan. In the 1950s, she attended St. Martins School of Art, in London, before returning to India, where she joined the Bhulabhai Memorial Institute in Mumbai. There, she worked with artists like M.F. Husain, Tyeb Mehta and V.S. Gaitonde, who became her longtime artistic mentor. In 1961, she returned to Europe, this time to Paris, where she studied for several years on a French government scholarship. She was awarded the National Award in Drawing by the Lalit Kala Akademi (National Academy of Art) in New Delhi, in 1972. That same year she began serving on the arts faculty at Maharaja Sayajirao University, in Baroda, India, where she taught until 1988. She died young as the result of Parkinson's disease two years later; she was 53.
Christie's, Mumbai

Biography from Saffronart:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

On viewing Nasreen Mohamedi's spare drawings, one is struck by the artist's repudiation of the representational aesthetic that dominated the work of her contemporaries.  The frugal, enigmatic lines of these works represent the acme of her abstract idiom, rooted in the work of artists like Kandinsky that she encountered while studying in London and Paris.   Speaking about these works, Geeta Kapur notes, "Nasreen's drawings raise the question of perspective in several different ways.  Perspective as a ubiquitous premise of thought; and the vanishing point as the flip-face of imagist art that is mostly representational and anthropomorphic and full of object presence, blocking the horizon by foregrounded bodies.  Here, in Nasreen's drawings, all is distance.  There is nothing waiting at the end of the perspectival trajectory, no encounter at the vanishing point.  Displaced through percussive shifts of the receding target, the vanishing point stretches both terrain and memory" ("Elegy for an Unclaimed Beloved: Nasreen Mohamedi 1937-1990" Nasreen in Retrospect, Ashraf Mohamedi Trust, Mumbai, 1995, p. 17).

In her diary, she writes, "Again I am reassured by Kandinsky-the need to take from an outer environment and bring it an inner necessity."  Mohamedi initially worked with color, and created vivid oil paintings until the mid 1960s.  At this time, she began to forge a new aesthetic, experimenting with the grid format popularized by Piet Mondrian and the Minimalists.  "The grid announces among other things, modern art's will to silence, its hostility to literature, to narrative, to discourse," writes Rosalind Krauss, and one may find these impulses manifest in Mohamedi's monochromatic palette and economy of form.  Her work responds to the increasing influence of technology on forms of life, and her manifesto for art evokes a utilitarian mission statement.  "One day all will become functional and hence good design," she wrote in 1980. "Then there will be no waste.  We will then understand basics.  It will take time.  But then we get the opportunity for pure patience."

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