Anwar Jalal Shemza painting The Red House (1960) at his home studio, 1960. Courtesy and copyright the Estate of Anwar Jalal Shemza.


In his paintings, drawings, prints and etchings, Anwar Jalal Shemza explored modernism from both Islamic and Western perspectives.

Shemza attended the Mayo School of Industrial Arts (now the National College of Arts) in Lahore. Already an established artist and writer in Pakistan, he moved to London in 1956 to study at the Slade School of Fine Art. While at Slade, he developed a visual language that placed aspects of Islamic art such as calligraphy and palimpsests in dialogue with the formal and philosophical considerations of Western art history.

Reflecting his lived experience in Pakistan and the UK, his work draws on Islamic carpet patterns and calligraphy as well as the work of modern artists such as Paul Klee.

Solo exhibitions of Shemza’s work include BP Spotlight, Tate Britain, London (2015); Drawing ǀ Print ǀ Collage, Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai (2015) and Roots, Indus Gallery, Karachi; Alhamra Art Centre, Lahore and Pakistan National Council of the Arts, Islamabad and Peshawar (all 1985). Among his group exhibitions are South Asian Modernists 1953-63, The Whitworth, Manchester, UK and Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai (2017); Dhaka Art Summit (2017); Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945–1965, Haus der Kunst, Munich and Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai (2017); 10th Gwangju Biennale (2014); Trajectories: 19th–21st Century Printmaking from India and Pakistan, Sharjah Art Museum (2014) and Migrations: Journeys into British Art, Tate Britain, London (2012).

Shemza’s work is part of the collections of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford University; Birmingham Museum and Art Galleries; Bradford Museum and Galleries; British Museum, London; Guggenheim Abu Dhabi; Oriental Museum, Durham University, UK; Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, US; Lahore Museum; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, UK; Pakistan National Council of Art, Islamabad; Tate Modern, London and Tate Liverpool.

Shemza received a prize at the 1st British International Drawing Biennale, Teesside, UK (1973) and a gold medal from the University of the Punjab, Lahore (1956). He earned a diploma in commercial art from Mayo School of Arts, Lahore (1947) and a degree in fine arts from the Slade School of Fine Art, London (1960).

Born in 1928 in Simla, India, he lived and worked in the UK until his death in 1985 in Stafford.

SAF participation:
Sharjah Biennial 14

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Anwar Jalal Shemza: Various Works (1961–1969)

Sharjah Biennial 14 presents 13 of Shemza’s works created between 1961 and 1969, surveying his diverse influences during this transitional period and the decisively modern diasporic perspective examined through the prism of both Islamic and Western aesthetics.