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Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art / Anwar Jalal Shemza (British Pakistani, 1928-1985) Blue Vase

Anwar Jalal Shemza
(British Pakistani, 1928-1985)
Blue Vase
24 mai 2022, 13 h 00 UTC+1
Londres, New Bond Street

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Anwar Jalal Shemza (British Pakistani, 1928-1985)

Blue Vase
signed and dated 'A Shemza 55, lower left
oil on canvas on board
61 x 48.2cm (24 x 19in).


Acquired from the artist by Mr Ejaz Batalvi and lent by him to the artist's 1956 Exhibition. Mr Batalvi is credited in the 1956 exhibition catalogue which is included in this lot;
Acquired by the vendor from Mr Batalvi's son in December 2019.

A. J Shemza, Exhibition of Paintings, List of paintings: Number 6, June 1956, (illustrated, unpaginated.)

A. J Shemza, Department of Fine Arts University of the Panjab, Monograph Number Five, 1956, pg. 32-33
A. J Shemza, Exhibition of Paintings, List of paintings: Number 6, June 1956, (illustrated, unpaginated.)

'In twentieth century Abstract Art, the artists' expressions are arrived at through their appreciation and analysis of still life, landscape and figure reduced to the significance of still life.'
(Anna Molka, 1956)

The Blue Vase (Oil on canvas, 19 in. x 24 in.) is an early example of Anwar Jalal Shemza's modernist artwork from the 1950s and represents one of his first departures from the Bengal School Style. The painting was part of Shemza's first solo shows at the Department of Fine Arts, University of the Punjab, and at Karachi Arts Council in 1956.

The title bewilders the viewer as the centrally placed vase is richly painted in hues of yellow, green, and black. The four stems of varying lengths that the vase holds bear orange flowers. Another stem that lies horizontally in front of the vase, balances the colours of the flowers in the vase. The background and the foreground are painted in shades of dark brownish-black that help the vase and the flowers stand out. The white outline of the vase not only delineates the shape and its unusual angle, but also alludes to the material reality of the central object – most probably glass. This interpretation gains traction from the fact that the entire 'roundness' of the base has been made 'visible' by the artist. The vase is placed on an elliptical concave woven tapestry that mimics the shape of its base. The richness of the painted tapestry is like a woven carpet – an industry to which Shemza's family belonged. The composition is design-intensive and bears witness to Shemza's training as a graphic designer from the Mayo School of Arts, Lahore (now, National College of Arts or NCA).

The form of the vase can be seen as a body that holds the flowers, and it is neither Eastern nor Western – suspended between observation and stylization. This is indicative of Shemza's intention to create not the study of still life, but rather to experiment with the new syntax of abstraction that had been introduced in post-colonial Pakistan through the works of Zubeida Agha (1922-1997) and Shakir Ali (1916-1975).

Anna Molka, an artist and art educator, writing on Shemza's work states:

By exploring new potentialities, these experimental artists had veered towards abstract art. Their concentration upon a semi-scientific method of indicating instantaneous light on form caused them to break the representational tradition of the West.

Shemza's The Blue Vase does not conform strictly to cubism. It carries the characteristic aesthetics of traditional Indian painting – to deny the illusion and uphold the two-dimensional aspect of painting, hence showing multiple perspectives. Perhaps the in-betweenness of this painting can be understood in the context of the fact that at this time, Shemza, along with his young cohorts (members of Lahore Art Circle or LAC – a small artists' collective based in Lahore and functional from 1952-1958), was experimenting with the syntax of modern abstract art. He desired to move the art practices of the nascent country away from prevalent painting practices of traditional Indian painting and European academic style towards more avant-garde practices in order to begin engagement with the global art world.

Anwar Jalal Shemza was a painter, a designer, a writer and a teacher, commonly known by his pen name Shemza. He was one of the eight founding members of LAC which became the harbinger of modern art in Pakistan. Shemza's contribution to the art history of Pakistan and Britain came to attention posthumously in 2009 with two ground-breaking shows sponsored by Green Cardamom, London. The first show, curated by Iftikhar Dadi, was entitled Anwar Jalal Shemza: Calligraphic Abstraction, while the second, curated by Rachel Garfield was titled Anwar Jalal Shemza: The British Landscape.

Shemza was born in Shimla, India in 1929 to a Kashmiri family who owned a carpet business in Ludhiana. He received a diploma in Commercial Arts from the Mayo School of Art (now The National College of Arts, Lahore). Shemza inherited his love for reading and writing from his father who was a poet, and after migrating to Lahore, Pakistan, he started to mingle with Urdu writers through the literary circle called, Halqa-e Ahbab-e Zouq. Shemza himself was a talented writer and wrote several plays for Radio Pakistan, and various short stories and novels as well. His active engagement with the literary circle in Lahore enriched his critical thinking and enabled him to embrace modern trends that were visible both in visual arts and literary fields of study. While he was creating experimental paintings as part of LAC, Shemza was also changing the way of telling traditional folktales, by rewriting them with a modern twist. In 1956, Shemza was awarded a scholarship by the British Council to attend The Slade School of Fine Art, London, where he received a diploma in 1959. In Britain, the trajectory of Shemza's work once again shifted towards experimenting with the abstract nature of Islamic calligraphy and exploring the relationship between visual and textual practice. His interest lay in understanding the form of Islamic letters and various processes of deconstructing the structure of the shapes of alphabets, which proved to be his passion for next twenty-six years.

Shemza continued to teach at various educational institutes in Pakistan and the UK throughout his life. He was a prolific painter, who also dabbled into other mediums such as ceramics, printmaking, and drawing. During his life, Shemza exhibited in London, Tokyo, France, and Pakistan. His work is in the collection of several private collectors and art museums around the world including: Ashmolean Museum, Oxford and Tate Modern, London in the UK; Metropolitan Museum of New York and Minneapolis Institute of Art, in the US; the Guggenheim Museum, and Sharjah Art Foundation in UAE, and at the Lahore Museum in Pakistan.

Dadi, Iftikhar. "Anwar Jalal Shemza and Calligraphic Abstraction".Perspectives London: Green Cardamom, 2009.

Dadi, Iftikhar. Anwar Jalal Shemza. London: Ridinghouse, 2015.

Garfield, Rachel. "Anwar Jalal Shemza, The British Landscape", Perspectives 2. London: Green Cardamom, 2009.

Iqbal, Samina, "Modern Art of Pakistan: Lahore Art Circle 1947-1957", PhD. dissertation, Virginia Commonwealth University, 2016.

Iqbal, Samina, Willie Simone and Iftikhar Dadi. Naya Daur: Shakir Ali and Lahore Art Circle. Lahore: Sang-e Meel Publications, 2017.

Moheyuddin Zia. 2012/manto/abovenormal.asp. Pakistan. Accessed Jan 22, 2016.

Molka, Anna. "Anwar Jalal Shemza: Catalogue of the Exhibition". Lahore: Punjab University Press, 1956.

Informations supplémentaires