Turning to flora for inspiration, Nabeeha Mohamed’s latest body of work Brown Petal brings together oil paintings and watercolours that are rooted in experimentation.
Beginning with old works that the artist felt “didn’t quite work”, the new body of work breathes new life into old splinters and shards.
Unwieldy combinations of blues, pinks, and browns swiftly coalesce through a syntax of light and density. The presentation sets the context for unconstrained experimentation through an arrangement of moments that are combined, incorporated and collaged.
In her journal entries published as a daybook in 1982, American sculptor Anne Truitt reflects on painting as an “arrangement of values”, where her relationship to objects and bodies can be thought of as elements that “arranged themselves into proportions of colour, the weights of which gave meaning to seeing.”
For Truitt, articles could be distilled through the darkness or lightness of tones that made up the thing, contemplating the beauty of artworks through their categorical simplicity.
Similarly, Mohamed’s paintings are unpretentiously delightful and contain the kind of categorical simplicity Truitt might have been referring to More beautiful (2021), for instance, is a watercolour collage that depicts a vase of flowers with the words “more beautiful” hovering above them.
More Beautiful, 2021.
The work might be unpretentious and categorically simple but it is not without its rough edges — fragments of everyday objects such as sunglasses and a piece of jewellery, are oddly placed in strange yet harmonious compositions.
The blue surface upon which the flowers sit recalls the ripples of the ocean, reverberating through wind or some other unnatural force.
At the risk of taking something beautiful and turning it into a stock phrase (hello Ubuntu, Kintsugi, Wabi-Sabi), I could not help but return over and over again to the idea of arrangement while reading Mohamed’s work.
The Japanese have nurtured a practice over centuries known as Ikebana, which is the art where blossoms, branches, leaves and stems find new beauty as they are arranged and rearranged in a new environment.
The practise is rooted in the four principles of a new approach, movement, balance and harmony. These principles are visible in how Mohamed chooses to engage line, colour and mass in Brown Petal.
There is also a sense of impossibility or perhaps unnaturalness to Mohamed’s creations, particularly in how elements are ordered.
This brings to mind Teju Cole’s reflections on what he considered the “impossible bouquet” as a surreal arrangement — “an arrangement of flowers that could never be present in the same time and place due to geographical and seasonal limitations.”
Mohamed’s flowers are also a set of impossible bouquets. They are bizarre, unusual, rare and deeply refreshing.
Brown Petal is on view at The Vault, The Silo Hotel until January 5th, 2022.
Baby Monument, 2021.