Monday, March 31, 2014

Nasreen Mohamedi's photographs

Mohamedi, untitled photograph, ca. 1980s

There are very few of them so far, the photographs released from her estate.  Just a handful.  Done mostly in the 70s and 80s, the first ones were shown publicly hardly a decade or so ago, a few years after the death of this great Indian modernist in 1991.  To see them again at the recent show at the Talwar Gallery in New York gives a shiver of recognition: the depth of her work is like no other.  To call it artistry is to miss the point completely.  There is no irony here, no conversation with history.  It is sheer presence, denuded to the point where the art we've been comfortable with simply falls away.

Her eye was attracted to the motions of lines, especially skewed ones, to waves on water and sand as well as traffic directional signs on pavement, to crescents, arcs, and to looms weaving wool, all lines that propagate in ranks, veering off the page endlessly.  They echo the delicate patterns of line in her drawings which are now celebrated in the art centers of the world, yet exist with their own energy.

Mohamedi, untitled photograph, ca. 1970s
Mohamedi, untitled photograph, ca. 1970s

Mohamedi, untitled photograph, ca. 1960s

Movement was crucial to her but it was always aimed toward the unity of that point at infinity where movement converges, and often she would go there and bring that point back to the center of her attention, from movement to stillness.

Mohamedi, untitled photograph, ca. 1980s
In 1971 she wrote in her diary: develop form through intuition from point to point.  She was thinking of her drawings but it could apply to her photographs as well.

Mohamedi, untitled photograph, ca. 1970s

Mohamedi, studio at Baroda, India, date unknown
A year later, the only entry was: a day of thinking begins.  You have the feeling she was holding her breath until she could think again, that every day was a trial and a release.  

For March 1981 she carefully wrote the single line: the shadow came and stood in its place like yesterday.  Nasreen is a penitent from a vanished order of an ancient faith, and with her hand she traces the remembered epiphanies.

At the end, prematurely, she succumbed to Parkinson's disease.  In Geeta Kapur's memoir, she's on the beach in Kihim south of Mumbai one May morning with her sisters watching the waves on the Arabian Sea near their small beachhouse.  'Sitting as if in preparation,' Kapur writes, 'she passed on suddenly without a sound.'

1 comment:

  1. that image of her dying in a moment of lucidity is hard to forget..