Hales Gallery at Art Basel Miami Beach
Survey: Anwar Jalal Shemza
5-8 December 2019
Hales is delighted to announce its return to Art Basel Miami Beach 2019 for the Survey section of the fair, with a solo presentation of historic works by abstract painter, Anwar Jalal Shemza. The presentation focuses on paintings which are exemplary of the artist’s inimitable reconciliation of Islamic motif and modernist abstraction, highlighting an oeuvre central to post-colonial reappraisals of 20th century modernism.
Anwar Jalal Shemza was born in Simla, India in 1928 (d. 1985 Stafford, England) and attended Mayo School of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan, graduating in 1947. 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 artist’s outlook, life and career.
Shemza’s dedicated practice was informed by his migration – synthesising cultural references, from calligraphic forms and carpet patterns to the environments around him: Mughal architecture from Lahore, Pakistan and the rural landscapes of Stafford, England. 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 circle. Shemza’s practice can be encapsulated by his 1962 statement, ‘One circle, one square, one problem, one life is not enough to solve it.’
Through extensive experimentation, he cultivated an outstanding formalist lexis. Shemza’s calligraphic abstraction is universalising – unmistakably repeating the shape of the Roman letters B and D with the fluid gesture of Arabic lettering, the artist suggests that ‘my paintings are not only to look at but are also writings to be read.’ This is exemplified in the work, Letter (1976), in which symbols insinuate alphabetic characters and the horizontal structure suggests lines on a page. In Composition in Green and Black (1965) the letters become blocks of subtly abstracted geometry and colour, combining a modern aesthetic of experimentation with his own personal exploration. The seminal piece was shown in the pivotal 1989 exhibition The Other Story: Afro-Asian Artists in Post-War Britain at Hayward Gallery, as well as being recently selected for the fourteenth edition of the Sharjah Biennial: Leaving the Echo Chamber (2019), curated by Omar Kholeif.
Shemza has had many solo exhibitions, including a retrospective at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (1997) and in more recent years, a spotlight display at Tate Britain (2015-16). His work has been included in significant group exhibitions such as Haus der Kunst’s Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945 – 1965 in Munich, Germany (2016 – 17) and Speech Acts: Reflection-Imagination-Repetition at Manchester Art Gallery, UK (2018). Shemza’s work can be found in many public collections including Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, USA; Tate, London, UK; Guggenheim, Abu Dhabi, UAE; Lahore Museum, Pakistan; Pakistan National Council of Art, Islamabad, Pakistan; Sharjah Art Foundation, UAE.