Nasreen Mohamedi at Tate Liverpool

Nasreen at her studio in Bombay at the Bhulabhai Desai Institute Dated 2 Nov 1960 Photograph 4.2 x 6.2 in.   Courtsey: Sikander and Hydari Collection

Running in conjunction with the Mondrian exhibition at the Tate in Liverpool was an exhibition of works by a female Indian artist  Nasreen Mohamedi . She’s an artist I’d never heard of before and wasn’t quite sure what to expect but it was a revelation.

As with the work by Mondrian in the other rooms on the first floor, the exhibition traced the evolution of Mohamedi’s work, showing how she

moved away from a figurative style and developed her own unique approach to abstraction.

One thing that became immediately apparent looking at the works on display – she didn’t tend to give them a title. I guess that she wanted her abstract works to speak for themselves and let the viewers make up their own minds on what they meant or represented. Apparently she sometimes didn’t date them either!

The first section of the exhibition featured early works that included sketches based on trees and organic forms – many of them looked like Japanese or Chinese prints and calligraphy – and also some rather beautiful colourful abstract works such as this one.

Nasreen Mohamedi Untitled Early to mid 1960s

Untitled Early to mid 1960s

An article in a past edition of Frieze magazine gives a good summary of how her work developed in three phases

Her earliest works ….. combine collage, expressive brushwork and snatches of figuration, and were made largely in the late 1960s. By the end of the following decade she had entered what Grant Watson (co-curator of a previous, smaller incarnation of this exhibition at the Office for Contemporary Art Norway, Oslo) has termed her ‘classic phase’ – patiently controlled, tautly constructed, repetitive abstractions strung through a fine pencil grid of parallel lines, on sheets of off-white paper approximately 50 centimetres square.  …… (in) her later drawings from the 1980s ……….. Mohamedi abandoned her fixed viewpoint above the grid, creating instead vertiginous perspectives on crisply fractured planes over which the viewer seems to dive, swoop and soar.

These are just a few examples from the 50 or so works on display.

Nasreen Mohamedi, Untitled

Untitled (undated, but from her “second period”)

Nasreen Mohamedi 1937-1990, Untitled

Untitled c1970s

Nasreen Mohamedi, Untitled early 1980s

Untitled early 1980s

Like with Mondrian, there was a very architectural character to her work, but more three dimensional. Unlike him, however, in her later works she seemed to shun the use of colour

She was also a photographer (her family’s business produced photographic equipment) taking photographs of desert landscapes, seascapes, modern structures, and the Islamic architecture examples of which are included in the exhibition. The photographs had a very abstract character and there similarities with her paintings and drawings.

Nasreen Mohamedi 1937-1990, Untitled c. 1970s

Having gone in to see the Mondrian exhibition it was a pleasant surprise to discover Nasreen’s art. Artists from outside of Europe and the USA are rarely highlighted by galleries and it can be a revelation to discover work like this, showing that art, and Modernist art in particular, existed (and still exists) in other parts of the world. They’re usually neglected and the Tate are to be applauded for putting this exhibition together and bringing Nasreem’s work to the attention of visitors drawn in to see Mondrian’s work. A good move.

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