The presentation focuses on the exemplary abstract paintings of Anwar Jalal Shemza. Central to post-colonial reappraisals of 20th century modernism, his work is a reconciliation of Islamic motifs and modernist abstraction. Shemza’s dedicated, formalist practice was informed by his migration – synthesizing cultural references, from calligraphic forms and carpet patterns to the architecture around him. 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. Through extensive experimentation, he cultivated an outstanding formalist lexis. Shemza’s calligraphic abstraction is universal – repeating the shape of the Roman letters ‘B’ and ‘D’ with the fluid gesture of Arabic lettering. The artist once stated, ‘My paintings are not only to look at but are also writings to be read.’
Anwar Jalal Shemza (born 1928 in Simla, India) was already an established painter in Pakistan before moving to England. In his singular practice, multiple histories, cultures, and experience are distilled and expressed in pure shape and color. The artist had an unwavering dedication to form and process – repeatedly breaking down the structure of shapes to come to a resolved understanding. His historic works were recently featured in the 14th edition of the Sharjah Biennial. Shemza died in 1985 in Stafford, United Kingdom.