From a young age, Nasreen Mohamedi’s life was unequivocally cosmopolitan. Born in Bahrain and raised in India, she attended St. Martin’s School of Art, London, from 1954-57 and from 1961-63 was a student at Monsieur Guillard’s Atelier, Paris. Through her life, she spent considerable time in Bahrain, Iran and Turkey besides 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 and photographs was a revelation. With an architect’s sensibility and through the language of geometry, she developed a highly personalized vocabulary to record her perceptions of the world.
“In the history of Indian Modernism, Nasreen Mohamedi is a distinct figure who broke away from the mainstream art practice of the early decades of post-Independent India, choosing the less explored trajectory of the non-representational. Without engaging in reconfiguring the world in images, Nasreen was drawn to "space" and her art was inspired by both man-made environments, especially architecture, geometry as well as the underlying structures in Nature. The optical, metaphysical and mystical overlapped in her quest for a non-objective, non-material world.” (R. Karode, ‘A view to infinity NASREEN MOHAMEDI: A Retrospective', Kiran Nadar Museum of Art website, accessed July 2018)
This selection of Mohamedi’s work, from the collection of the artist’s sister Saleha Rahim and her husband Mohammad, underscores both the versatility and virtuosity of her practice. From early drawings sketched in a few assured lines that still bear representational markers, to unique experiments with collage and photography and abstract studies of grids in ink and oil, this collection testifies to the freedom with which the artist comprehended her artistic process. This independence of spirit was an outstanding feature in Mohamedi’s personality, and beyond that, a result of the irrevocable support the artist received from her family throughout her life. Raised among many siblings, who later lived across different continents, the family would stay strongly connected, encouraging each other to develop their own path, no matter what society dictated. For Mohamedi, this support was decisive and helped her carry on despite the distance and her fragile health. In a letter addressed to Saleha, affectionally nicknamed ‘Mamoo’, written on the leaflet for a 1970s exhibition of her work, Mohamedi gives a report on the opening. “The responses were good and interesting and I feel a strong conviction and confidence in the direction I am taking. You are constantly in my thoughts and that gives me a still greater courage. I wish you were here. Mumm, I can repeat this a million times and it will be not enough that you have given me so much and you are still giving! With this I can go on.” This exceptional collection is testimony to the intimacy, support and outstanding liberalism of Mohamedi’s family, enabling the artist to blossom and to create this diverse body of works.
Mohamedi passed away in 1990 following a long struggle with a neurological disease that made it almost impossible for her to work. Besides being physically draining because of her illness, the artist’s practice was always “marked by rigours of self-discipline and self-restraint. Through acts of renunciation – of figures, objects, narration, decoration and excess, she arrived at an interiorized vision articulated in a sparse aesthetics and frugal means of art making, using pencil and ink pen to plot a phenomenological experience and breathe life into her lines, that often remained restless and always at the edge to embrace a view to infinity.” (R. Karode, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art website, accessed July 2018)
In 2013, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), New Delhi, organized a major retrospective exhibition of the artist’s work. KNMA, in collaboration with the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofa, Madrid and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, also organized the travelling exhibition Nasreen Mohamedi: Waiting is a Part of Intense Living, which was one of the inaugural shows for the Metropolitan Museum’s new Breuer building in New York in 2016.