Art and Emergency: Modernism in Twentieth-Century India




To celebrate the publication of her new book Art and Emergency: Modernism in Twentieth-Century India, Dr Emilia Terracciano will talk about the work of Indian artist Nasreen Mohamedi, whose works features in Drawing Room’s current exhibition Everything we do is music.

Only in the last fifteen years or so has Nasreen Mohamedi’s practice gained serious attention within India and globally, including in several significant exhibitions such as documenta 12 (2007). Though admired during her lifetime, Mohamedi remained enigmatic and elusive, quite the reflection of her work, a distilled oeuvre that defies easy comprehension. In the absence of obvious content, titles or imagery, her art confounds readings and subverts interpretation. 

A quiet individual and cherished fine art teacher, Mohamedi loved lavish clothes, textiles and beautifully crafted artefacts. Her refined taste was apparent from the small embroidered bags and cushions she made, which were in keeping with her peculiar aesthetic. She enjoyed watching Bruce Lee’s kung-fu movies, listening to Indian classical music, but also popular songs, which she played on her transistor radio at night. 

This talk will consider Mohamedi’s sustained engagement with abstraction, as well as the aesthetic, historical and material choices that shaped her unique vision.

Repetitive and allusive, her abstract compositions were compared by contemporary critics to the cryptic remnants of the ancient script of the Qur’an, to the labyrinthine constructions engineered by spiders, and to interstellar movements in space. Could it be that Mohamedi’s works aspire to higher forms of consciousness through contemplative explorations that interlace various realms of knowledge, both secular and spiritual? But also could it be that the ultimate significance of Mohamedi’s hieroglyphs, so steady and precise, remains deferred?

Emilia is the Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the Ruskin School of Art, Oxford University. She received a BA (Hons) in Philosophy and History of Art from University College London (2005) an MA (2007) and PhD from The Courtauld Institute of Art (2013). She was the recipient of the Nehru Trust Award (2008) and the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award scholarship at the Victoria and Albert Museum (2008-12). Emilia acted as consultant for the British Museum acquisition team (2013) and junior cataloguer at the Victoria and Albert Museum, providing detailed descriptions of items stored in the South Asia collection of Modern and Contemporary art (2008-13). She has received publication grants from the John Fell Oxford University Press Research Fund and the Scouloudi Foundation in association with the Institute of Historical Research, London.

Emilia’s writings have been published by Art Journal and Art Bulletin as well as the art press including Frieze, Modern Painters, Burlington Magazine and Caravan. She currently co-teaches with Prof Malcolm Bull the BFA year 2 course Photography and Globalisation at Ruskin School of Art, Oxford University. At The Courtauld Institute of Art, Emilia co-teaches with Professor Julian Stallabrass the MA course Documentary Reborn: Photography, Film and Video in Global Contemporary Art.

FREE, but please book online to ensure a place.

After the talk there will be an opportunity for questions.

Copies of the book will be on sale at the special price of £25.