Look Inside

Volume 68 Number 1, September-December 2016

Volume 68 Number 1

in focus: Abstraction
Edited by: Geeta Kapur and Jyotindra Jain

Geeta Kapur

The Elegant Complexity of Nasreen Mohamedi
Brinda Kumar

Zarina’s Language Question
Aamir R. Mufti

Lala Rukh: Lines of Agency
Natasha Ginwala

Revolution in Poetic Language: Manisha Parekh
Rakhee Balaram

Abstracting / Constructing: Sheila Makhijani and Pooja Iranna
Roobina Karode

Strategic Abstractions: On Seher Shah’s Large-Format Drawings
Murtaza Vali

In the Light of What We See: On Prabhavathi Meppayil and Rana Begum
Deepak Ananth

Parul Gupta’s Performative Space
Meenakshi Thirukode

archives of compressed time: Measure and Movement in the Work of Tanya Goel
Amanda Sroka

Book Reviews
Trace Retrace, edited by Kumkum Sangari
Arpita Singh, by Deepak Ananth

Devika Singh

The images on the inside cover and pages 1-11 feature photographs
of architecture and urban spaces taken by some of the artists showcased
in this issue, that reveal the relationship between abstraction and built structures.

Thematic Ad Portfolio: Architecture as Abstraction
Gupta, Latika
Vol. 68 No. 1, September–December 2016, 3 unnumbered + 1–11

For this special issue, the artists featured were invited to send photographs of architecture that they have taken which reveal their relationship with the cities and spaces they inhabit. Light, shadow, construction,deconstruction come together in this portfolio to provide new visions of art and abstraction.

Editorial Note
Gupta, Latika
Vol. 68 No. 1, September–December 2016, p. 12

This landmark issues marks Marg’s 70th year. The theme is abstraction and it features 11 women artists who demonstrate that abstraction continues to reside at the core of contemporary art practice. It re-affirms the political potency of abstraction within the larger project of modernism.

The Elegant Complexity of Nasreen Mohamedi
Kumar, Brinda
Vol. 68 No. 1, September-December 2016, pp. 16-25

In 2015–16, a major retrospective of the artist Nasreen Mohamedi (1937–90) took place at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The exhibition afforded the opportunity to take a deep dive into the evolution of the artist’s oeuvre and unpack her engagement with abstraction. Mohamedi’s Minimalist work was uniquely informed by an exacting and carefully calibrated practice, and reveals a distinct set of artistic priorities. This article assesses the exhibition, its presentation of the artist’s career and its installation at two distinct venues. Finally, it reflects on the recouping of an artistic project and the art-historical possibilities it yields for expanding readings of abstraction, Modernism and contemporary practice.

Zarina's Language Question
Mufti, Aamir R.
Vol. 68 No. 1, September-December 2016, pp. 26-33

Belonging to the same generation of women artists as Nasreen Mohamedi, Zarina (who has been based in New York since the 1970s) is among the vanguards of abstraction in South Asian and Indian art. This essay examines the manner in which she plays around with form and text in her woodcut prints to explore contested notions of nationality, history, politics, identity and memory. At the heart of Zarina’s works is the intelligent use of Urdu, often presented as a single stylized word or colophon that adds a new layer of meaning to the depicted image. It also highlights the influence of Islamic calligraphy and poetry and ghazal traditions on her practice. A strangely homeless language, its importance having dwindled both in India and in Pakistan, Urdu represents the voice of an artist who both wishes to reconnect with her roots and yet knows that there is no one homeland she can return to.

Lala Rukh: Lines of Agency
Ginwala, Natasha
Vol. 68 No. 1, September-December 2016, pp. 34-39

Through this focus on the artistic philosophy of Lala Rukh, we are introduced to notations as modes of visual writing that bear a sense of liveness and reverberation. In series such as Hieroglyphics made over several years, single works pursue a common thread, operating as a sort of phonogram and painted score that highlights the elemental connection between speech-sounds, melodic structure and contrapuntal flow. In other works like Subh-e-Umeed, the use of sound takes on a more political dimension, echoing voices of freedom and protest from her homeland, Pakistan. The importance given to listening and seeing before speaking becomes a symbolic gesture, reminding us of how Lala perceptively experiences the world around her. And where there is overwhelming silence and empty spaces in her work, there is an understanding of resonance as spatial environment, encompassing the contours of line-making and drafting forms.

Revolution in Poetic Language: Manisha Parekh
Balaram, Rakhee
Vol. 68 No. 1, September-December 2016, pp. 40-51

Manisha Parekh's unique style of Minimalism represents a return to simple and ascetic materials as a political standpoint in the style of Gandhi, who dismissed European values and British imperialism by adopting local products and promoting swadesi politics. This stands in contrast to many Indian contemporary painters who critique Gandhi’s legacy such as Atul Dodiya. With her focus on organic elements, Parekh engages society on an instinctive and sensory level, at a time of shiny, polished stainless steel neo-Duchampian readymades, conceptualism and the seeming disappearance of the hand. Although she frequently uses objective grids and straight lines, she also intersperses these with natural patterns such as scattered seeds, clouds and spore-like growths. The formations, at times, recall aspects of environmental art brought into the gallery. Parekh complicates our understanding of interior/exterior worlds, as much as of the “hand” of the artist, by turning towards affect and subjectivity as possible feminist and/or postcolonial markers in her work.

Abstracting/Constructing: Sheila Makhijani and Pooja Iranna
Karode, Roobina
Vol. 68 No. 1, September-December 2016, pp. 52-63

This article features Sheila Makhijani and Pooja Iranna, representatives of a younger generation of Indian women artists who have taken to abstraction. Both students of the College of Art, New Delhi and enthusiastic urban explorers, Sheila and Pooja have their own ways of engaging with city spaces and found objects. Sheila largely sticks to drawing and painting, her webbing of freeflowing lines and use of splotches and strokes mirroring her random meanderings through the city. More recently though, she has worked with three dimensional forms, creating half-hidden maps on folded paper and automobile shapes with dials, wires and beads. Pooja has always preferred dealing with more structured architectural grids and keeps experimenting with new mediums. She also deploys labour-intensive methods, using tiny staple pins to piece together abstract geometric forms that mirror modern-day steely facades and buildings. Both artists ultimately revel in the processes of art-making, seeing it as a way of reinforcing their personal spaces and female subjectivities.

Strategic Abstractions: On Seher Shah's Large-Format Drawings
Vali, Murtaza
Vol. 68 No. 1, September-December 2016, pp. 64-73

Seher Shah’s first mature body of work, a set of digital prints and graphite drawings on paper provocatively titled Jihad Pop (2007), garnered immediate attention and acclaim. Baroque conflagrations of signs, symbols, spaces and structures, they uncannily encapsulated the polarized geopolitical conditions of our post-9/11 world. Mistakenly understood as illustrations of these external realities, they were however intended as attempts to represent, metaphorically and conceptually, the artist’s complex internal subjectivity. Her subsequent art practice, drawing on her training in both art and architecture, has demonstrated a growing interest in abstraction, both conceptually and through subject matter referenced. This could be a conscious strategy by which she subverts the reductive categorizations of discourses invested in identity politics and cultural authenticity. The essay views the emergence of this strategic abstraction through a careful analysis of a series of large-scale drawings that Shah has done through her decade-long career.

In the Light of What We See: On Prabhavathi Meppayil and Rana Begum
Ananth, Deepak
Vol. 68 No. 1, September-December 2016, pp. 74-87

This essay is divided into two sections: the first devoted to the art of Prabhavathi Meppayil and the second to Rana Begum. Prabhavathi is inspired by her artisanal roots; her craftsmanship involves creating thin indented horizontal lines by embedding gold and copper wire on gesso surfaces with a tool called thinnam. Her style of abstraction boils down to a sort of stark asceticism reflected in her white-on-white works with minute marks. These appear very plain from a distance but overwhelm with their details when viewed closely. Rana Begum’s works also play around with optical illusions but through the use of colour. Her three dimensional geometric forms attract viewers with their shifting perceptions of surface, light and shades. Through these Minimalist designs, Begum returns to the basic patterns of Islamic architecture. Thereby she is able to pay tribute to her religious roots without falling into the trap of iconographic representation.

Parul Gupta's Performative Space
Thirukode, Meenakshi
Vol. 68 No. 1, September-December 2016, pp. 88-93

Parul Gupta’s work as a means to negotiate space, body and subtle notions of movement is primarily in the artists’ sense of her work being rooted in the idea of negating meaning. The gesture here marks a preoccupation with line, built space, the surroundings and the human encounter of these three aspects, as ways to queer the seemingly mundane. There is a beckoning here to not just look at a chronological reading and instead to think of practice as a set of connections, much like Gupta’s own compositions that present themselves in the now; one that at the outset can be denied, confronted, accepted, show a fresh perspective or perhaps re-iterate what has already been said, in order to present renewed possibilities.

archives of compressed time: Measure and Movement in the Work of Tanya Goel
Sroka, Amanda
Vol. 68 No. 1, September-December 2016, pp. 94-99

This essay explores the recent work of New-Delhi based artist Tanya Goel. Goel’s abstractions intimately intertwine the calculated and the contingent in ordered landscapes inspired by the urban grid. Bearing titles such as field, index, and notation, they map and uncover city streets and spaces in an effort to make their textures porous and fissures visible. Collected brick, concrete, aluminium and stone along with colour charts and pigments serve as the main materials for her canvases—through their layering, Goel materializes and compresses time and makes visible the processes behind her art. Working as chemist and choreographer, the artist creates repetitive blocks and lines that ultimately come to embody memory, movement, and matter.

Book Reviews
Singh, Devika
Vol. 68 No. 1, September–December 2016, pp. 100–103

Reviews of Trace, Retrace. Paintings: Nilima Sheikh edited by Kumkum Sangari and Arpita Singh by Deepak Ananth.