If you see Nasreen Mohamedi’s untitled ink and graphite work on paper from the 1980s, you will feel a sense of movement, as if the lines are in flight, tearing through a vast expanse of space. A similar pulsating energy is palpable in Jeram Patel’s blowtorch works. You can feel the action of the scorching heat on wood to create the charred cavities. And now one can observe the familiarities and departures between the practices of the two artists in a new show, titled Stirring Still, at Akara Art, Mumbai.
Some key works in the exhibition include large-format line drawings by Mohamedi and a rare composition by Patel that makes use of the barest hints of anatomical details to depict a crucified Jesus amidst a huddle of mourning witnesses.
Mumbai-based art critic and curator Girish Shahane, in an essay for the exhibition, expresses surprise at the fact that the pairing of Mohamedi and Patel in a two-artist exhibition has not been attempted previously. Though the two artists hailed from very different backgrounds, they studied in Europe within a few years of each other. They became friends in Bombay (now Mumbai) in the 1960s. And in the ensuing decade, Mohamedi joined the faculty of fine arts at the Maharaja Sayajirao University, Vadodara, where Patel was already a professor. They remained colleagues until Mohamedi’s death in 1990.
The curatorial note draws attention to the way the contemporary artists worked to their own rhythm and the role solitude played in their practices. “A solitude that is reflected within the lines and the colour of their art. Nasreen’s emphasis on minimalism and Patel’s approach to materiality may seem paradoxical to the eye, yet there is a philosophical understanding between the two friends that resonates with their works,” it states.
At one point during the 1960s, Patel had created drawings on paper too—just like Mohamedi—including Hospital, featuring short dense strokes made with a crow quill. Some of these had been featured at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in 2016 as part of the show The Dark Loam: Between Memory And Membrane. While curating the exhibition, Roobina Karode, director of the museum, mentioned how Patel, together with Mohamedi and Himmat Shah, had explored the fragility of paper at a time when the Progressives had made painting on canvas popular among artists. “We had been thinking of doing a solo exhibition of Nasreen for some time. But then the idea of doing an artist pairing came up, and the thought of Jeram occurred spontaneously,” says Puneet Shah, director, Akara Art. “The show, in a way, felicitates their friendship.”
For Shahane, the juxtaposition of the two practices yields some interesting observations. In his opinion, the charred cavities [in Patel’s work] thus created variously bring to mind geological sediments, archaeological strata, open-pit mines and exhumed graves. “Patel’s excavatory impulse, evoking long stretches of history, is inverted in Mohamedi’s delicate networks of lines and arcs, extraordinarily precise in their geometry, light and luminous, which conjure things evanescent, fleeting, not-quite-there,” he writes. “Paradoxically, Patel employed negative space, in other words nothingness, to design works imbued with materiality and presence, while Mohamedi used the materiality of graphite and ink to suggest absence, intangibility, and ephemerality.”
Stirring Still has been designed in such a way that the viewer feels the sense of movement that characterised the oeuvre of both artists. The first room holds works by Mohamedi, a large chunk of which have been shown at The MET Breuer in New York and the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. The next room features blowtorch works by Patel. These are followed by graphite and watercolour works by Mohamedi. “You enter into a minimal space, which is followed by pops of colour. And then you get back to a minimal space again. The viewer can feel the movement between materiality and dematerialisation,” says Shah.
Stirring Still can be viewed at Akara Art, Mumbai, 11am-6.30pm (Tuesday-Saturday), till 30 September.