Nasreen Mohamedi: notes reflections on Indian modernisms
Milton Keynes Gallery 5 September to 15 November
Until recently, Indian artist Nasreen Mohamedi (1937-1990) was little known outside her native country. It is only in the last ten years that her delicate geometrical drawings have been the subject of a surge of interest in the West, culminating with their inclusion in Documenta 12 in 2007. Ever since this new-found popularity (suspiciously coinciding with the art world's sudden craving for artists from the sub-continent) art writers have debated where in art history's grand scheme to place her modernist practice. Mohamedi's grid compositions and her vibrant diagonals anachronistically call on abstraction's early days. Her work is also often compared to Agnes Martin's, even though, according to her close friend art historian Geeta Kapur, she only encountered the American's paintings late in her life. The legitimacy of such a western-centric interpretative framework has been directly questioned: Anders Kreuger has gone as far as to label the comparison between Mohamedi and Martin a 're-colonizing'. Yet Mohamedi studied in Europe and was exposed to modern and contemporary western art from a very young age, a personal history that renders Kreuger's claim absurd: behind such judgements lurks the over-determined political correctness too often found in writings dealing with non-western art, and the feeling of unease provoked by practices defying cookie-cutter categorisation.
The Milton Keynes Gallery exhibition has been adapted from a recent show at the Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA). Perhaps surprisingly, it starts with a series of photographs that the artist didn't consider as 'work' and refused to exhibit during her lifetime. The curators' decision is easily justified, though, as this ensemble of restrained black and white images potently introduces Mohamedi's visual lexicon. Everywhere, the real is abstracted: road marks become dynamic graphic signs and sand ripples unravel, diagram-like, across the sheet. These photographs announce the sense of enjoyment of shapes and structures so masterfully expressed in the artist's works on paper. Four little diary sheets are also presented in the first gallery. 'Home. Home--work. Home--black out continues': the rare legible snippets of writing read like concrete poetry, but most of the pages are covered in closely-knit horizontal lines and black planes which plunge dates, times and words into darkness. …