announced representation of the Estate of Anwar Jalal Shemza, following two celebrated exhibitions with the gallery at Hales Project Room, New York and Hales London in 2018. Currently, thirteen historical works by Shemza are included in Making New Time, curated by Omar Kholeif, part of the Sharjah Biennial 14.
Anwar Jalal Shemza is an artist whose experience of multiple cultures informed a practice dedicated to exploring shape and colour. Shemzas diasporic perspective, as an artist with a deeply studied understanding both of Islamic aesthetic principles and the tradition of geometric abstraction in the West, allowed him to explore modernism through a uniquely doubled prism.
Anwar Jalal Shemza (1928 1985) was born in Simla, India, to Kashmiri and Punjabi parents. He attended Mayo School of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan, graduating in 1947. Shemza continued to teach, make, and exhibit art until his death in 1985. An established artist in Pakistan before his move to the UK in the mid 1950s, the young Shemza was an active participant in Urdu literary circles, publishing multiple novels, poems and radio plays, and he edited the journal Ehsas. In 1952, he co-founded the Lahore Art Circle - a group of young artists interested in modernism and abstraction, rebelling against the uniform socialist realist style espoused by some progressives.
In 1956, already an established artist in Pakistan, he relocated to England to study at the Slade School of Fine Art. This move marked a significant change in the artists life and practice. While studying he was astonished to hear one of his lecturers, famed art historian E.H. Gombrich, characterise Islamic art as purely functional. This was a pivotal moment, leading Shemza to abandon previous work and embark on a journey to create a dramatically different style and visual language. He drew on an array of references, from carpet patterns and calligraphic forms to the environments around him: Mughal architecture from Lahore, Pakistan and the rural landscapes of Stafford, England.
With an unwavering dedication to form and process, Shemza repeatedly sought to break down the structure of shapes to come to a resolved understanding. Parallels can be drawn between a looping structure of language found in his fictional writing and the arrangements he developed through painting. In his compositions, layered elements are distilled into an intensive exploration of geometric abstraction and pattern, built up mostly using just two simple forms: the square and the circle. His practice can be encapsulated by the words inscribed in Urdu on the surface of his painting, One to Nine and One to Seven (1962) One circle, one square, one problem, one life is not enough to solve it.' Through extensive experimentation, the artist cultivated an outstanding formalist vocabulary in the tradition of Mondrian or Klee with the calligraphic strokes of the Arabic alphabet.
Anwar Jalal Shemza continued to teach, make, and exhibit art until his death in 1985. Shortly after this, Shemzas spectacular painting The Wall (1958) was selected for inclusion in the seminal exhibition The Other Story: Afro-Asian Artists in Post-War Britain, organised by Rasheed Araeen at the Hayward Gallery in 1989. In 1997, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery staged a large solo exhibition of his work. In more recent years, a solo display at Tate Britain (2015 16) and inclusion in significant exhibitions such as Haus der Kunsts Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945 1965 in Munich (2016 17), and Manchester Art Gallerys Speech Acts: Reflection-Imagination-Repetition (2018 19) have cemented Shemzas position as a central figure in post-colonial reappraisal of 20th century modernism.
Shemzas work is in many public collections including Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA; Tate, London, UK; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK; Guggenheim, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Lahore Museum, Lahore, Pakistan; Pakistan National Council of Art, Islamabad, Pakistan.