Walking the Lines of Nasreen Mohamedi

by Claudia Dias on February 4, 2010

A few weeks ago I came acrosss the fine-line drawings and b/w photographs of Nasreen Mohamedi (1937-1990). Infinite precision and sensibility in using multiple variations of lines, be it in thickness, distance and pressure these drawings of multiple horizons are simply magnetic.


Break the cycle of seeing
Magic and awareness arrives.*

During her lifetime Nasreen’s work did not get due recognition in India, according to Deepak Talawar, for her abstract modern works, influenced by European Constructivsm and Modernism were too non-Indian within the then Indian art scene. She devoted her work to the anonymous language of geometric clarity, where all is distance: “The drawings lift the body into space and give it a sense of its mathematical positioning,” writes Geeta Kapur in the Drawing Center’s catalog “Lines among Lines” from 2005.

Nasreen studied design in London and in Paris, traveled frequently to the deserts and beaches of Bahrain, Kihim and Kuwait, but lived and taught mainly in Baroda and later on in Bombay and New Delhi. “What seemed to attract her during these travels were not the monumental and the new, but the imperceptible cycles and imperfections of nature, the overlooked infrastructures and detritus of everyday life in the streets”. (Susette Min)


Alone among all Indian artists, she worked on small-format, strictly ruled drawings in ink, watercolor, and pencil on paper. She took many black and white photographs of seemingly random moments on her travels and daily life, but all were already composed with lines, be it street marking, yarns of a weaving stool or the waves of a dune landscape. She refused to exhibit the photographs and thought them inappropriate for the public eye, but she used them as a starting point for her fine-line drawings.

In the early 1960′s Nasreen started out with delicate tracery of grey-and orchre paintings, moved in the early 70′s to grid pencil drawings and graphic formalism and started in the early 80′s with drawings incorporating diagonals.

Her drawings are often compared with Agnes Martin’s works, however she only learned about the American artist late in her career. Personally, I find Nasreen’s work way more compelling, since they lack the doctrinarian, kind of religious undertone and tend to be more experimental, open and questioning.


Looking at the drawings is like taking an infinite break, and reveals the devotion, patience and depth of the artist behind the lines.
“For Mohamedi, life was not a matter of time, but of duration; for Mohamedi’s drawings engage with the thick activity of the world around her, they do not represent or render nature, or a particular aspect of the city, so much as they serve as a referent of time.” (Susette Min)

*From Nasreen’s Diary, July 17th1973, Baroda

Nasreen Mohamedi: Notes. – Reflections on Indian Modernism @ Kunsthalle Basel (February 7-April 4, 2010)

Please refer for catalogs and further information about Nasreen Mohamedi‘s works to Talwar Gallery , which represents the estate of the artist. Drawings and Photographs are by Nasreen Mohamedi, courtesy of Talwar Gallery.

Talwar Gallery 108 East 16th Street, New York, NY 10003, Tel + 1 212 673 3096

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