To the point…where the lines meet
Author: Bindu Kasinadhuni | A Homage to Nasreen Mohammadi on World Art Day
Untitled ca.1975 Ink and graphite on paper.
9 1/2 × 9 1/2 in 24.1 × 24.1 cm.
Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of arts
To draw a straight line with a ruler is not as simple as one thinks, a point marked on paper with the point against a ruler, holding the ruler firmly down, moving the pencil along the plane slowly….the result canbe a precise line …..or not. It took me a good number of years to practice, make a, rather an almost perfect line. This drill at the design school not only helped my eyes see a line but also find a perfect one and more so, admire, cherish and value its precision and perfection immensely.
This story of line continued to fascinate me and thus the quest for the perfect representation of line.I encountered the art of Nasreen Mohamedi when I was going through the Asian art section of the Metropolitan Museum of arts collection.
Mohamedi’s work is mesmerizing. It evokes a feeling of being slurped into this maze of lines and shadows, questioning its origins and its journey to the destination of a framed composition.
The subject, brush and the palette were just lines! My description, however, can be limited in describing her brilliance. Her compositions on flat surfaces transcend geometry, spatial illusion. They seem like these little universes, created with a devotional play of grids, planes, a reverence to the surfaces dark and light created with underlying linear elements of spirituality.
Pencil on paper was Mohamedi’s preferred medium. A photograph showing her studio/workspace with a drafting table and a few tools feels like a space of pure silence and tranquility. Her body of work sang lyrically in lines as her pencil waltzed through gradations of light and dark. As an avid photographer, Mohamedi recorded her visual thoughts through her photographs. Though many of these were never exhibited, one can find parallels to her work.
Untitled, 500X700 mm, Graphite and ink on paper
Image courtesy Chatterjee&Lal
The process of weaving and the patterns formed by the warp and the weft on a loom provided Mohamedi the curiosity to visually explore. It enabled her to translate the series of intersecting lines simulating the threads to grids on multiple planes. Mohamedi created these fascinating compositions as simple derivatives of a visually complex narrative.
My further curiosity on her artistic process, brought me to this article by Gregory Gilligan, NASREEN MOHAMEDI: What Geometry One Finds on the beach. Click here
As an artist, educated and influenced by the West combined with her eastern roots, Mohamedi could express simplicity, spirituality, and the concept of minimalism through her work. Right when the Progressive Artists Group was experimenting with representational art, Mohamedi moved ahead with her quest for the line paving a new path especially for the women artists in post colonial India. She found herself an exemplary place among the Abstract expressionists reflecting modernity and minimalism.
She was mentored and influenced by the renowned Indian artist, V.S.Gaitonde and her work is compared to the works of Kandinsky, Malevich along with the writings of Camus. In her minimal abstract compositions, there is the austerity of Sufi music and the pure elements of Islamic architecture that Mohamedi had experienced in her life and travels.
I love the way she takes one through - into her compositions, where one is wondering on the precision of the lines, wandering through the beginning and the ending of lines, exploring the gradations created through the light and shadows, gliding through complex angular geometry – revel in the true essence of simplicity.
I can totally imagine Mohamedi in her white walled studio working on her drafting table in the company of Sufi music with cool breeze wafting through the windows.
Most of her works of art were untitled and seem like tangible reflections of her thoughts.
We humans are complex beings, and we need something pure and simple to nourish our souls. Like the blue sky, or the sun rise, or the sound of the waves, for me – also the smell of jasmines…something true and joyous.
Art gives a similar experience. Something which makes you pause…a vehicle to evoke and endure that pure joy. We need to be surrounded by art, it can be a Rothko, a Kandinsky or a Mohamedi or even a kid’s crayon scribbles of monsters!