by Mollie E Barnes


Beyond Lines, written on the occasion of solo exhibition ‘Traces of Existence; Place Between Places’ by Nidhi Khurana

Text written following a conversation with Nidhi Khurana 

“It has always been this way with the map makers: from their first scratches on the cave wall to show the migration patterns of the herds, they have traced lines and lived inside them.”
– Maya Sonnenberg, “Cartographies”


There is an inherent human desire to delineate and define our world. Maps allude to a need to share, and a fear or prediction of being disorientated. Nidhi Khurana (b.1980) reads, walks, thinks and writes all the time. It is all a part of her practice, and it is that which we see in her works. She has often, also, found herself lost. It is this personal encounter with the feeling of being ‘lost’ that forms the bedrock of her practice.

‘Traces of Existence; Place Between Places’ exhibits works from her series of map works developed over more than a decade. These pieces reveal an artist who is continually experimenting and pushing the boundaries of her medium and message. From textiles that map the historical and ever-changing faces of cities like Bombay, to sketchbook pages that trace her personal journeys, Khurana’s art is a continuous exploration of both the physical and metaphysical spaces we inhabit. Her earliest map works from 2010 describe New Delhi. They present a “lattice of roads” between her then accommodation and working studio. Here, she began “building language of how to think about a place: physically and with words”. She embraced the contemporary view of the city, alongside the history of Delhi – and the seven known cities that have occupied that space. In referencing this work, she describes how maps are often now incorrect; how they are a narrative; “a lostness of the mind”.

The maps Khurana presents us with transcend their traditional role as navigational tools. Her maps become metaphors that explore the multifaceted nature of human experience. Maps are archives. They are repositories of collective memory and experience. They are imprints of places. “Maps are not just geographic tools… they are carriers of memory and narrative.” Her works imply a vast interconnectedness of life and a deeper understanding of our place within a broader, spiritual universe. Works are fascinated by the disconnect between the paper of a map, and the space in reality: the place between places. 


“Very free.”


What is the essence of a map? Historically, to record routes and describe territories. The cartographic tradition is rooted in humanity’s primal urge to understand and organise its surroundings. (Indeed, one of the earliest surviving maps dates to 25,000 BC, carved on a mammoth tusk.) Cartography evolved over time. It transcended its utilitarian roots, to become a tool of empire and conquest. Maps became instruments of control, embedding colonial narratives into the fabric of conquered lands.

Khurana’s work is acutely aware of this complex history. Her artistic process of stripping maps of their traditional markers – text, borders and water channels – challenges the viewer to question the traditional notions of mapping and territory. Geographer John Pickles, posits that “maps provide the very conditions of possibility for the worlds we inhabit and the subjects we become.” This insight invites us to ponder the uncanny power of maps, not just as representations of space, but as creators of realities and identities. Khurana invites a departure from the conventional reading of maps, urging us to consider not only the spaces they chart but also the unseen dimensions they imply; to imagine the myriad ways in which places can be experienced, remembered, and understood. Khurana’s approach to mapping is an act of reclamation and reinterpretation.

“My maps are invented.”

This transformation of maps to metaphors exposes the strangeness of how we interpret lines on a page to representations of our vast, complex world. The inherent disconnect between a map’s simplified, symbolic language and the layered, often messy reality it seeks to capture. This dissonance prompts questioning of the structures embedded within traditional cartography, revealing maps as constructs that shape, and are shaped by, the perspectives and prejudices of their creators. She feels “very free with the maps” as she removes the layers of imposed meaning and authority that have historically defined and divided spaces. This deliberate omission transforms the created maps into ones of fiction. It is a radical act of liberation, freeing the map from its historical constraints, to one of personal and collective reflection.


“The knowledge of how to grow from seed to plant, is going to be lost.”

10 years ago, Khurana began planting her “Garden for the Bees” on the 5th Floor of her Delhi home. Khurana’s annual ritual of planting new species and recording their growth highlights the irreplaceable value of personal observation, and the importance of firsthand experience in the acquisition and sharing of knowledge. The deliberate pace it requires stands in stark contrast to the rapid, often impersonal methods of learning and knowledge sharing prevalent today. It is a testament to the unique knowledge that emerges from being physically present and engaged with one’s environment; the importance of materiality and the value of experience. The practice emphasises the human element in a world increasingly mediated by screens and algorithms.

Khurana travels a lot. The direct, global perspective gained from her residencies and travels imbues her work with a profound sense of interconnectedness, reminding us that we are all part of a larger, ecological whole. Each new environment becomes a source of inspiration and introspection, challenging Khurana to absorb, adapt, and reflect. This adaptability – akin to arriving “as white photocopy paper to be printed” – allows her to capture the essence of each place. The process of continuous learning and adaptation underscores the importance of firsthand experiences.

The theme of personal documentation is central to Khurana’s artistic philosophy. Works serve as a reminder of the knowledge we risk losing in the rush of modern life — the simple yet profound understanding of how to nurture life from seed to plant, the importance of learning directly from the rhythms of nature rather than through the digital intermediation of screens and devices.

“We are forgetting these ecological histories.”

This exposure to new landscapes and cultures fuels her inquiry into the ecological narratives of our time, making her work a poignant commentary on the global environmental crisis. In her maps, one can trace not just the physical contours of lands but the ecological footprints we leave behind, urging a collective reawakening to the delicate balance that sustains life. In this context, Khurana’s art is a reminder of the fragility and resilience of the natural world, and the imperative to preserve it. Her work is a documentation of her life on the planet as it exists right now.


“We are nature. We are that.”

Khurana’s choice of materials is deliberate and thoughtful, imbuing works with additional significance. Her utilisation of textiles as a medium harks back to the historical use of tapestries and fabrics as canvases for cartographic information, such as the famous Mappa Mundi: also an elaborate works of art, rich in detail and colour. Her engagement with textiles – a medium inherently linked to storytelling and memory – echoes the interconnectedness of human experiences. Her collaborative works, particularly her project in Panipat with local weavers, underscore the importance of community in her practice.

The interplay of materials demonstrates Khurana’s concern for the environment and the impermanence of human endeavours. The use of natural dyes – such as onion skins, pomegranate seeds, rose petals gifted from a local florist and oak leaves from the ground – and precious metals like gold and silver is not merely aesthetic; it carries an intrinsic message about the value and vulnerability of the natural world.

Notably, gold on slate seems to reference dialogue between the celestial and the earth retrospectively; the ephemeral and the permanent. Gold, with its enduring lustre and historical association with divinity and immortality, contrasts with the transient nature of textiles, which, like human life, are susceptible to wear and change over time.


“We reflect what we are.”

Central to Khurana’s artistic philosophy is the idea that “We reflect what we are.” This principle invites viewers to bring their personal narratives, perceptions, and emotions to the art, making each encounter with her work one of self-exploration.

The stripping of conventional information appears to serve as a metaphor for the shedding of the “bloated nature of human ego” against the vastness of the cosmos. The earth is indeed a “pale blue dot,” as described by Carl Sagan’s book of the same name. It’s hard not to be humbled.

“Lift the veil that obscures the heart and there you will find what you are looking for.”
– Kabir

Her invitation to “nurture your weirdness” is a call to embrace one’s individuality; to explore the quirks and idiosyncrasies that define us. These interactions underscores the evolving identity of the artist and the viewer alike, influenced by the ever-shifting landscapes. Khurana’s maps as metaphors speak to the broader human quest for meaning and connection in an increasingly fragmented world. They reflect our innate desire to locate ourselves within a larger narrative, to find our place.

In Khurana’s created universe, every thread, every gold mark and every line is a narrative in itself, weaving together a compelling argument that celebrates the complexity, diversity, and unity of the human experience. From the outset, her work confronts us with the disorienting sensation of being lost.

Her work reminds us of the strangeness and wonder of reading a line on a page—a mere abstraction—and using it to orient our physical presence in the vast expanse of the world. Khurana invites us to see beyond the surface, to urge us to recognise the invisible ties that bind us and read beyond lines.