Earlier this month Amrita Jhavari brought the work of Anwar Shemza to life with an informative guided tour of a Tate exhibition of his paintings, organized in collaboration between the British Pakistan Foundation and Tate Britain. A significant exhibition of a major Pakistani artist, and his bold, beautiful and intricate work, the show provides a wonderful insight into a multi-talented painter and writer grappling with ideas of modernism and identity.
Love Letter One (1969)
A founding member of the Lahore art circle and a leading figure in Pakistani cultural life, Anwar Shemza was already a respected artist and writer when he arrived in London to study at The Slade School of Fine Art in 1956. Feeling displaced artistically in a London art scene that didn’t value artistic influence from the East, Shemza became disillusioned and destroyed his earlier figurative work. He embarked on a more abstract modernist path, which fused calligraphy and aspects of Islamic architecture, shapes and geometry with Western abstraction – hoping to find what he called ‘reality’ or ‘a visual truth’ in the bold, rhythmical, patterned designs that fill the room. Woven through Shemza’s paintings is an exploration of belonging to the Pakistani diaspora while forging a life, identity and family in England. He repeatedly revisited subjects, including the walls and gates of Lahore, the Urdu/ Arabic letter Meem, and plant roots.
One to Nine and One to Seven is a good painting on which to start your exploration of the collection, acting as a template with which to read much of the paintings. It makes clear the geometrical elements of Islamic design at the core of his work while combining it with the rhythms and shapes of calligraphy.
Magic Carpet (1961)
Shemza was from Kashmir and the influence of his family’s carpet-making business emerges in the intricate patterns, shapes, symmetry and compositions that many of his paintings display, including The Magic Carpet (1961). His Roots series – the most biographical of the collections on display – features hand dyed cloth, and a merging of Pakistani design elements with techniques such as print making that he learned in England. In this way, we see his visual engagement with the complexities of reconciling two very different cultures (also, don’t miss the display case of writings, letters and sketches for a fascinating glimpse of the man behind the work).
A beautiful exploration of identity and art – go and see it!
When: 12 October 2015 – Autumn 2016
Where: Tate Britain, Millbank, London SW1P 4RG
Website: Tate Britain
By Daisy Perkins. Daisy is a figurative artist, currently teaching and working at London Fine Art Studios. With a love of the design, architecture, light, colours and clothes of South Asia, she has most recently been to Pakistan, where she was an Artist in Residence. Daisy is now working on an exhibition of this work.
Photos from www.anwarjalalshemza.com