Anwar Jalal Shemza (1928-1985)
Born on 14 July in Simla to a Kashmiri and Punjabi family, who own a carpet and military embroidery business in Ludhiana.
Begins study of Philosophy, Persian and Arabic at the University of the Punjab, Lahore.
Transfers to Mayo School of Arts, Lahore due to a growing interest in art.
Awarded a Commercial Art Diploma with distinction.
Establishes a design studio in Lahore. Simultaneously works for the Government of Pakistan Public Relations Department, designing propaganda pamphlets, cinema slides, press layouts and magazine illustrations, and for the Visual Aids Section of the Education Department, creating a series of posters that promote adult education.
Designs and edits Ehsas, an Urdu fortnightly periodical on art and literature.
Four of Shemza’s novels are published in Urdu during this period. Achieves widespread recognition for literary and artistic endeavours as a member of the Lahore intelligentsia. Founding member of the Lahore Art Circle, which is concerned with
modernism and abstraction. Participates in several solo and group exhibitions throughout Pakistan. Appointed head of the art department at Lawrence College, Public School for Boys, Ghora Gali and Cathedral High School, Lahore. Writes scripts for various stations of Radio Pakistan in the form of art and architecture programming and productions for children.
Relocates to London for further study at the Slade School of Fine Art, London. Upon arrival in the UK, his Pakistani artistic achievements are not recognised. An existential crisis results in the destruction of previous artworks. Paul Klee assumes a major significance; embarks on the Heads series and a new body of drawing using ink.
Marries fellow artist Mary Taylor; first daughter Tasveer is born a year later.
Earns a Diploma in Fine Art. Receives a British Council scholarship to study on an advanced course in printmaking at the Slade School of Fine Art, which concentrates on etching and is led by Anthony Gross. Included alongside Francis Newton Souza and Avinash Chandra in a number of group exhibitions in London. Exhibits in solo displays at New Vision Centre, London (1959) and Gallery One, London (1960). A new series, City Walls, attains a new compositional density by using layers of squares and circles.
Relocates to Pakistan where the hope to undertake a senior position at his former alma mater, the National College of Arts (renamed from Mayo School of Arts in 1958), does not materialise. Despite some exhibitions and critical acclaim, Shemza is forced to work for an advertising firm in Karachi. Dissatisfied, Shemza returns to the UK with his family within the year.
Settles in Stafford. Employed as an art teacher and continues with own practice during evenings and weekends. Following an introduction to John Coleman, colour printmaking becomes a major focus. Begins working on the Magic Carpet and Chessmen series.
A number of international exhibitions over the next decade focus on drawing (Yugoslavia during 1963–70), printing (Japan during 1962–68; Austria in 1963; Switzerland in 1967) and engraving (Argentina during 1968–72).
Starts to form two major bodies of work: Fingerprint and Square Compositions. Writes a major statement on his development as an artist, which is published in the catalogue accompanying a solo exhibition, A J Shemza: Paintings, Drawings, 1957–1964, at the Gulbenkian Museum of Oriental Art and Archaeology, Durham.
Uses pyrography in his work for the first time, which he returns to once more in his career during 1983.
Embarks on the Meem series, which engages entirely with script for the first time by transforming the first letter of the Prophet Muhammad’s name into a simple composition.
Begins working on the Love Letters series.
Experimentation with silkscreen becomes a major focus in the Women series.
Develops the Roots series by embellishing the calligraphic abstraction of the earlier Meem paintings.
Second daughter Hannah is born.
Dies of a heart attack in Stafford, unable to fulfil wish of returning ‘home’ and retiring to the foothills of Kashmir. This desire is reflected in the drawing, Dream Home (1984–85; p.216), that Shemza worked on the day before he died. Solo exhibitions of the Roots series tours at venues in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar.
Included in The Other Story: Afro-Asian Artists in Post-War Britain, a major exhibition demonstrating an alternative to the mainstream Western artistic canon of modern art, curated by Rasheed Araeen, at the Hayward Gallery, London. The cover of the exhibition catalogue includes a reproduction of The Wall (1958; p.99).
The first major UK retrospective of the artist’s work opens at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.
Anita Dawood and Hammad Nasar of Green Cardamom, London represent the Estate of Anwar Jalal Shemza. The gallery presents two solo exhibitions Calligraphic Abstraction, curated by Iftikhar Dadi (2009), and The British Landscape, curated by Rachel Garfield (2010). Included in the group exhibition Migrations: Journeys into British Art, at Tate Britain, London in 2012, which revisits the themes of The Other Story: Afro-Asian Artists in Post-War Britain.
Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai represents the Estate of Anwar Jalal Shemza. A selection of Square Compositions is displayed at the gallery’s solo stand at Art Dubai (2014). Shown in numerous international group exhibitions, including Burning Down the House, 10th Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju and Trajectories: 19th–21st Century Printmaking from India and Pakistan, Sharjah Art Museum, Sharjah (both 2014). A solo BP Spotlight display opens at Tate Britain in October 2015, which includes paintings and prints drawn from the Tate’s collection.