Rasheed Araeen, Nine, 1967 
Painted steel, 61 x 61 x 61 cm
Courtesy of the artist

Nine blue structures placed on the floor in dynamic formation are evidence that Araeen did not stop producing geometric work, even as his pieces incorporated more and more references to political agendas of the day. Like his interactive work Zero to Infinity, (1968-2004) Nine makes use of 'broken symmetry', a concept that is central to Araeen's understanding of art.

As mathematician Marcus du Sautoy notes, ‘Araeen is interested not just in creating but also disrupting symmetry. The Islamic carpet weavers would deliberately sew imperfections in their designs because they did not wish to aspire to the perfection that only God would achieve’. For Araeen, clean symmetry has different connotations: 'Perfection is to be avoided as it is the symbol of absolute power'. Similarly, Kazimir Malevich would not paint a perfect geometric square, telling friends that the form felt too pressing, too imposing.

Rasheed Arareen. Zero to Infinity, 2017
64 painted wooden structures
Courtesy of the artist

For Araeen, the notion of overcoming symmetry has been an important process since 1968, when the artist first had the idea for Zero to Infinity. That is why, in 2008, when three Japanese scientists received the Nobel prize for physics for their exploration of ‘broken symmetry’—a theory that explains how, after the Big Bang, the symmetry between equal amounts of matter and anti-matter was breached, so that the world can positively exist—Araeen wrote an article passionately noting the resemblance of their ideas to his long-held belief in art as a process of facilitating ‘infinite transformations’.

In his short story ‘On balance’ from 1934, the writer Daniil Kharms, Malevich’s friend, put forward his own version of ‘broken symmetry’, having, apparently, no knowledge of Big Bang Theory. ‘There is no balance in the world. The margin of error is just some one-and-a-half kilos for the whole universe, but still, it is fascinating, utterly fascinating!