image above: Nasreen with artist friend Jeram Patel, appx. 1974 from “Nasreen in Retrospect” published in 1996 after her death
I feel much closer to Nasreen and my reasons for coming to India today! I met Roobina Karode this afternoon. She is the Director and Chief Curator at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art. KNMA is a highly regarded private contemporary art museum in Delhi. Roobina was also a student of Nasreen’s at the M.S. University in Baroda, and a friend and neighbor of hers as well. Roobina was studying to be an artist and for various reasons later turned to art history. She curated the exhibit in 2013 of Nasreen Mohamedi’s work, “ A View to Infinity,” at the KNMA that was the largest exhibit of Mohamedi’s work to date. There were more than 100 photographs and drawings and paintings in the exhibit. The exhibit at the Tate Liverpool this last summer only had about 50 of Nasreen’s works. Ms. Karode was remarkably generous with her time and very engaging, just lovely. She had 8 of Nasreen’s drawings and paintings from the collection (they have 40 of Mohamedi’s works in their permanent collection but many are out on loan now) brought out to show me. I was able to handle the framed works and look at them closely. She also asked the associate curator, Saumya Bhatt to show me the documentation of the exhibit at KNMA which looked absolutely beautiful. Roobina concurred the information that I had heard at the Talwar Gallery in New York that a major exhibition of Mohamedi’s work (the largest yet) will be shown “somewhere in Europe” (it has not been announced yet where) in 2015 and this exhibit will travel to “somewhere in the U.S.” in 2016. Roobina Karode is currently involved with producing a book about Mohamedi that will be published in conjunction with the international exhibition. She said she is writing three chapters from her different personal perspectives on Mohamedi: one chapter will be about her relationship with Nasreen as a student, another as a curator and the third chapter from her perspective as a critic. We looked at the different works together – from Nareens’s early works from the late 50’s and early 60’s with color and brush strokes to the later works of the 70’s and 80’s drawn with a rapidograph and graphite pencil. She obviously loves and is amazed by Mohamedi’s work. It is very fresh with her. I love the work too. I have posted these works that I actually saw with Roobina in one post below titled “seeing Mohamedi’s works at Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.” But a lot of our discussion was really about Nasreen Mohamedi the person: the teacher, the artist, and the human being. She had such descriptive stories to tell of her student days in Baroda and of Nasreen. She said that Nareen was a lovely generous person. Everyone liked her also people who had no connection to art. They lived in the same neighborhood in Baroda and often went to the University together in the morning. She said that Nasreen knew every tuk-tuk (the bicycle taxies) driver’s name and always asked about their family. It sounds like she was very engaged with people in general and very present. Roobina also said she was a very good teacher, very giving, very different than the other teachers, not as traditional at all. She was interested in teaching the conceptual and the experiential aspects of art. Roobina said that this was unheard of at the time and even today her style of teaching art would be unusual. At that time in Indian Art (the 60’s and 70’s) the figurative and narrative art predominated. Abstraction was very unusual. There was a very traditional and and formal approach by the other mostly male teachers. But Nasreen asked her students to be aware of their environment: the sounds, the smells, the forms, and the movement. She would take everyone outside to draw and give them exercises like to draw the tones of the colors of the tree, or draw the movement of the wheel that you observe. Roobina said that she treated all her students and their work with great respect and attention. Ms. Karode also talked about Nasreen’s own work process as an artist. This is written about in various other places, but I really can’t wait to read Roobina’s book about Nasreen. Roobina said that though so generous and friendly with her students and everyone she was very silent about her work and when she was working nothing else existed. Apparently she did Pranayama, meditations everyday before working. This was a very strict discipline and practice she maintained. Roobina said she could be in the room with her when Nasreen was working and there was no contact it was just Nasreen connected to the drawing. Her studio/apartment was famously very spare. There is a picture below of her studio. Her original drafting table and tools were in the exhibit at KNMA and I have that pictured below as well. It sounds like she was just happy to make her own work in her studio. She said she was in love with her work. She mentioned that Nasreen never complained that her work was not showing much, that people weren’t interested in her abstractions. She would invite her students to come look at her work in her studio. She would lay out the drawings in an L shape on the floor. Silently she would stand and the students would look at the work with no talking, like a meditation. She would open her arms to each student as they left as a greeting, but no words. Silent viewing in the simple studio. This sounds like my dream opening, no talking, no fuss, no muss. She drew almost up until she died (at age 53) from the neuromuscular disease. She stopped teaching several years before, to preserve her energy. Apparently she even stopped talking much the last few years of her life. She preserved her energy for her work. Roobina also said she did not talk about the techniques involved in her work, she never revealed her methods, this was between her and her work. I asked Ms. Karode about Nasreen’s photographs. She says there is much discussion and debate amongst the critics about the photographs. Were they preparations for drawings? Roobina says she thinks the photographs stand on their own as works. We talked about these photographs as just another way of seeing or of experiencing, another form of practice. I did not see any of the original photographs on this trip. This time with Roobina Karode gives me much more of a feeling and experience of Nasreen the person, and Nasreen the teacher as well as Nasreen the artist. She is certainly singular, someone to emulate, to respect, to inspire though certainly never to surpass. I am very thrilled to learn more about her. I will travel to “somewhere in the U. S.” in 2016 to see more of Nasreen Mohamedi’s work and hopefully Roobina Karode too and many other people will have the opportunity as well outside of India. The post below shows some images from Nasreen’s life and the post below that the work that I saw at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art. So happy to end my three weeks in India with this experience.