"Modernism is often thought of as starting somewhere in Europe, let's say France -- not to be biased at all -- and then proceeding in a linear progression, from Dada and Cubism through Conceptual Art, Minimalism, Pop. But then you have an artist whose work might parallel Ellsworth Kelly's but who came from India and, further, who was a woman in India. And that is fascinating to me-that in an extremely patriarchal culture, this woman was doing such strong, important work." (P. Vergne, 'Phillipe Vergne on Nasreen Mohamedi', Art in America, August 2015, p. 33)
Nasreen Mohamedi is an iconoclast of Modern Indian art. From a young age, her life was unequivocally cosmopolitan. She attended St. Martin's School of Art, London from 1954-57 and from 1961-63 Monsieur Guillard's Atelier, Paris. Throughout her lifetime, she spent considerable time in Bahrain, Iran, Turkey and the coastal town Kihim in India, and was deeply inspired by Islamic art, architecture and the Arabic language. During a time when many of her contemporaries were engaged in the figurative tradition, Mohamedi's clean, minimalist approach, that first emerged in her oil paintings and later in her ink and graphite drawings were a revelation. With an architect's sensibility and through the language of geometry, she developed a highly personalised vocabulary to record her perceptions of the world.
Mohamedi's practice may be understood through a few major phases. The first, during the early 1960s is largely dominated by semi-abstract and lyrical paintings. As exemplified in this painting from 1961, bold lines and swatches of color resemble the virtuoso manner of postwar abstraction in the School of Paris. At this time, Mohamedi had a studio in Bombay at the Bhulabhai Desai Institute alongside other modern Indian artists, such as Vasudeo S. Gaitonde who became her mentor.
In the 1970s, Mohamedi redirected her practice to focus on drawing. From the beginning, her drawings emphasise economy, structure, seriality and repetition. Drawing was Mohamedi's way of exploring the intersections of time and space while dismantling rigid notions of lineation. Her message lies not in the overall structure or surface, but in the relationship between the lines. Mature drawings are even less reliant on the grid and feature triangles, spheres and suspended diagonal lines.
Throughout her lifetime, Mohamedi kept a daily journal and a personal photography practice. Her photographs reflect her interest in modern technology, industrial production, architectural space and her love for desert landscapes and seascapes. They anticipate, in an almost neo-pictorialist way how many contemporary artists use photography today.
In 1972, Mohamedi won the National Award in Drawing from the Lalit Kala Akademi. That same year she joined the arts faculty at Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda, where she taught until 1988. Perhaps it is best through her teachings that we can understand Mohamedi's artistic inclinations and motivation. As described by a former student, "Nasreen taught us drawing, not only with a pencil or brush but in the wider sense drawing from within our own resources, from the world around and from experience that life provides. [...] She made each of us feel special and believed in our individual capabilities which were dormant and completely unknown to us. Somehow her faith and nurturing touched a chord in a lot of us and changed the course of our lives." (N. Sabnani ,Lines among Lines, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2005, frontispiece)
Afflicted by Parkinson's disease, Mohamedi became increasingly reclusive during the last few years of her life. Decades after her untimely death in 1990, Mohamedi's Modernist legacy continues to grow internationally and her work has been the subject of many major exhibitions. Often compared to Agnes Martin or Carl Andre, Mohamedi is in a class of her own. Her humble yet powerful works challenge common understandings of modernism and minimalism in art.
In 2013, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi, organized a major retrospective exhibition for the artist. The Museum, in collaboration with the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofa, Madrid and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, have now organized the exhibition Nasreen Mohamedi: Waiting is a Part of Intense Living Currently on view at the Reina Sofia through January, 2016, this exhibition will then travel to the Metropolitan Museum (March-June, 2016) to be one of the inaugural shows for it's new building.