Lot 21
  • 21


3,000,000 - 4,000,000 INR
bidding is closed


  • Nasreen Mohamedi
  • Untitled
  • Ink on paper
  • 48.2 x 68.5 cm. (19 x 27 in.)
  • Executed circa 1980s


Acquired directly from the artist, Baroda, circa late 1980s 

Catalogue Note

Nasreen Mohamedi’s works were radically different from those of her contemporaries. Most of her fellow Indian artists were deeply involved with oil painting, a bold use of colour and the figurative, narrative tradition. Meanwhile, Mohamedi explored abstraction and geometry through photography and delicately rendered drawings on paper. Mohamedi was born into a privileged Muslim family in Karachi in an undivided India in 1937. She moved with her family to Bombay in 1944 and grew up there. She attended Central Saint Martins School of Art in London (1954-57), then joined the Bhulabhai Desai Memorial Institute in Bombay (1959) and later attended the Monsieur Guillard’s Atelier in Paris (1961-63). After this she spent most of her adult life in India, settling down in Baroda in 1972 where she taught at the Faculty of Fine Art at the Maharaja Sayajirao University until 1988.  

During the 1960s, Mohamedi travelled widely – to Iran, Bahrain, Kuwait, Turkey, London, Paris and the United States. She studied philosophy from both the East and the West - reading works by Federico Garcia Lorca, Rainer Maria Rilke, Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Camus, as well as Mohammad Iqbal, Ghalib and Rumi. Mohamedi’s works from this early period were already moving towards abstraction but became characterised by a sense of agitation. In her painting and collaging of the time one can see her affinity with fellow artist and friend, Vasudeo S. Gaitonde. The lines and planes that appear in her later works were already starting to appear. It was also in the 1960s that Mohamedi began experimenting with photography, the influence of which is described by Roobina Karode: ‘Her austere images refuse the lure of effusiveness, the temptation to fill the frame, pairing away unnecessary elements to arrive at contemplation. The perceptible world/experience is extracted into an abstract configuatoon of lines, shapes, textures, patterns, and light’. (R. Karode, ‘Waiting is a Part of Intense Living’, R. Karode et al, Nasreen Mohamedi: Waiting Is a Part of Intense Living, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, p. 35)

As she moved deeper into abstraction, Mohamedi’s further need to simplify led her to give up figuration, the easel, the canvas and colour. In her mature works from the 1970s and 1980s, Mohamedi worked with grids and geometry.  She ‘developed a rigorous practice that explored the possibilities of line on paper’.  (B. Kumar, ‘Of Calligraphic Lines and Radiant Light: Nasreen Mohamedi and Islamic Aesthetics’, 3 June 2016, https://www.metmuseum.org/blogs/ruminations/2016/nasreen-mohamedi) The entire surface of her works were covered in lines – parallel, angled, dashed – creating complex labryinths. This act of repeated mark making gave her works not only a layered depth but also texture on the paper. There was a sense of deep introspection in these works which was akin to mediation – the act of drawing line after line in a state of deep contemplation.

By the late 1970s, she had shifted to a broader rectangular format.  ‘Her works from this period boldly activated the diagonal, delineating polygonal forms – the triangle, the rhomboid, the chevron – which intersect and layer, suggesting a concern for movement in both space and sound.’ (B. Kumar, ‘The Restrained Discipline of Line: Nasreen Mohamedi’, 28 April 2016, https://www.metmuseum.org/metmedia/video/lectures/nasreen-mohamedi-restrained-discipline-of-line, 8:58-9:11) This transition was attributable both to the influence of artworks she had seen while travelling and studying, by artists such as Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich, and the geometric mandalas of Tantric Hinduism and multiple grids of Islamic architecture from her home. By this time, the effects of the neuro-muscular disorder that Mohamedi was suffering from were becoming more apparent. Her hands quivered while performing daily mundane tasks – in light of this, her line drawings were nothing short of a miracle.

In the works from the 1980s, to which the present lot belongs, Mohamedi was no longer filling the paper to its edges. The smaller scale of the work and the close detail compelled one to look at her work in an intimate way. Here, we see a layering of a triangular shape,  accentuated with a deliberate use of different ink tones. The lines are delicately balanced and have an ethereal quality to them.  The larger triangular shapes are made with a lighter ink tone. These are intersected by smaller triangular shapes not quite parallel to the larger ones - adding depth and dynamic movement to the composition. These are further crisscrossed by even smaller triangles made in varying tones. This use of changing ink tone is reminiscent of both East Asian as well as Islamic calligraphy. (Kumar, ‘Of Calligraphic Lines and Radiant Light: Nasreen Mohamedi and Islamic Aesthetics’)

The smallest triangle at the bottom can be viewed as a shadow or reflection of the topmost one. In several of her photographs, Mohamedi focuses on shadows. Karode explains ‘she did spend a lot of time by the sea and in the desert, places where light always presents itself in high contrast and shadows appear as intense apparitions.’ (Karode, ‘Waiting is a Part of Intense Living’, p. 35)  These shadows could be in a narrow empty channel of water in Fatehpur Sikri or that of a camel against a wall.

As with other works from this period, there is also empty space, or rather, space that allows light into the composition. Her works are a meditation on emptiness and the void which, according to various spiritual and mystical traditions, is essential to the reception of knowledge. ‘The comprehension of space in these drawings is daring. Without fixed vistas, vanishing points are lost or pushed further, and lines are given the breath of life to move with their own rhythm.’ (Karode, ‘Waiting is a Part of Intense Living’, p. 41)  

Since 2003, Mohamedi has had frequent exhibitions and retrospectives across the world. Her works have been highlighted at Tate Liverpool, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in Delhi, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.