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The Hindu

The grid, unplugged, an exhi­bition of important drawings by Nasreen Mohamedi (1937-1990) resonates the complex relationship between line, place, space and the poetics of discovery that are located in the drawing. How is it that Mo­hamedi, with her evenly spaced hori­zontal and vertical lines, has produced a body of work that is so poignant? 

Almost all the elements of Mohame­di's inventive repertoire from the 1970s are evident in this ensemble of works: lines in all four directions (vertical. hor­izontal, left and right diagonal), straight and not straight, touching and not touching, solid and broken, gridded and arced. Her meticulously rendered pen and ink drawings show precision in exe­cution, where the line spacing varies from picture to picture. In some, the lines are equidistant, like rules on note­book paper. In others, the pattern is more complicated, even intricate, like formal rhyme schemes in poetry, with lines alternating, single lines or unlined spaces. 

Few artists have developed their in­vestigation in a manner that is as com­plex and subtle; she articulates geometry, perspective and the grid; ar­chitecture and design to track the un­chartered possibilities of abstraction. Her concerns were diverse, ranging from landscape and architecture to the subtle delights of salt bubbles in the sea, lines in the sand, painted road cross­ings, shadows of objects and textile looms (as seen in her photo-based works). 

Both in drawing and photography, the use of line in Mohamedi's work cre­ate grids, patterns. and diagrams of var­ying tonality. She utilizes media such as pencil, ink, and pen, as well as a variety of linear directives including: straight; even and uneven; touching and not touching; random and ordered to give form to the idea. The result is an ex­traordinary confluence of works, variously bold and subtle, improvised and predetermined, clear and cryptic, re­ductive and expansive. For all their di­versity and complexity, they are nonetheless informed by a singular aes­thetic that Mohamedi formulated in the 1970s. 

Her work lends itself to drawing as a means towards creating an active line - a line/ lines that are improvisatory and always in motion, in the sense that it proceeds without closure or completion - continually part of a process that is never-ending. From a distance they seem to palpitate, as half-visible linear patterns come in and out of focus. Up close the same pictures can look both diagrammatic and eventful, even sus­penseful, as you register slightly differ­ent weights in drawn lines or modulations in the pen and ink applica­tion that suggest a more "scientific" ap­proach to her art, one that focuses on her drawings' formal, optical properties.

Mohamedi's drawings emphasize in abstract form the relationship between drawing and thought or idea, as she weaves abstract fields from tracks of ti­ny crosses or marks, exploring through abstraction the conflation of inside and outside, micro and macro, thought and action, in her intricate drawings. She does this through a highly selective process of inclusion and exclusion, in­tertwining planes and grids and reduc­ing them to skeletal patterns of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines. She writes in her diaries of the need to take from an outer environment and bring it an inner necessity ... " Her draw­ings are about weightlessness, about merging and about breaking down of "form" which enables the creation of a field of vision with all its intricacies - intricacies that make us conscious of the intimate relationship between abstrac­tion and aesthetics, between the con­ceptual and the formal. 

Indeed, Nasreen's quiet, graceful oeuvre is a deliberate counterpoint to the increasingly aggressive and intru­sive nature of images and technology in our everyday lives. Her practice is a test­ament to the value of "concentration" and "precision", both in the repetitive gestures that create her subtle composi­tions and in the enhanced awareness they call forth from the viewer. The sur­faces not only demand extended view­ing, but also actually respond to the act of looking; slowly scanning the draw­ings causes one's eyes to adapt to the graduated contrast, which in turn caus­es the peripheral use of lines to shift. More than anything, Mohamedi's works on paper narrow and focus the eye's at­tention. You have to stand close to them. You have to "read" every line. They de­mand intimacy and a kind of commit­ment. But what they give back, in their simplicity and richness, is indescribably moving. 

In conclusion, Mohamedi's drawing offers us the most extraordinary range of possibilities: it is a map of time rec­ording the actions of the maker. It is, as Michael Newman writes, a record of "lived temporality'' and in the sense that a drawing is by essence always incom­plete. A line always suggests a contin­uation ad infinitum and thus connects us with infinity and eternity. Her draw­ings enjoy a direct link with thought and with an idea itself. Its very nature is sta­ble, balanced equally between pure ab­straction; its virtue is its fluidity. Her drawings are highly controlled and del­icate, an act of homage, redolent of per­sonal memory, history or desire ... 

Mohamedi's drawings in this exhibi­tion challenge us to reassess the com­monly held assumptions of what constitutes a picture/ an image, helping us acquire a deeper understanding of the extraordinarily diverse and wides­pread uses of 'drawing' in the art world today. 

-Sasha Altaf