Anwar Jalal Shemza

(1928—1985) artist

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(b. Simla, India, 1929; d. Stafford, England, 18 Jan. 1985). Pakistani painter, printmaker, writer and teacher, active in England. Born into a Kashmiri family of carpetmakers, he grew up in Lahore and received a diploma in fine arts in 1947 from the Mayo School of Arts there and also studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, London (1959–60). He was active in the literary circles of Lahore as a poet and short-story writer throughout the 1950s. Although trained in traditional miniature techniques, calligraphy and formal tessellated pattern making, in his early work he propagated a modernist, iconoclastic approach to painting, creating cubistic cityscapes and still lifes in oil on canvas. Strongly influenced by Paul Klee (1879–1940), Shemza later drew on Arabic and Persian calligraphy in strongly linear works. In his ink-and-watercolor Untitled Drawing (1959; Lahore, A. Council Col.) the structure is geometric yet the forms remain fluid and rhythmic. He participated in the International Print Biennial, Tokyo (1962), and the International Biennale of Young Artists, Paris (1965). In 1960 he married the English artist Mary Katrina and returned to Pakistan several times during the 1960s before settling in Stafford, England, to teach art. Exhibitions of Shemza's work were held at Gallery One, London (1960), the Gulbenkian Museum of Oriental Art and Archaeology, Durham (1963), the Commonwealth Institute, London (1966), the Arts Council galleries of Lahore (1967) and Karachi (1967), and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (1972). A posthumous exhibition toured several cities in Pakistan during the late 1980s; its theme, “Roots,” reflected Shemza's nostalgia for his origins. Works shown were in a variety of media, including silk-screen prints as well as paintings in gouache and acrylic, all small in size (the largest 300×400 mm). The chief subject matter, jewel-like plant forms that blended calligraphic curves and linear pattern, were suggestive of Islamic architectural façades or the ornate designs of Eastern carpets and textiles. His fusion of Western abstraction and Islamic motifs continues to attract attention: a retrospective exhibition of his abstract paintings was held at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in 1997–8.

From The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Art.

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