While the heritage of modern and contemporary art in Pakistan may be more often associated with vivid color palettes and bold patterns, there is the most famous minimalist tradition among the country’s most famous artists. From the early pioneers of contemporary South Asian art, such as Anwar Jalel Shemza and Zahor ul Ahlak, to the multi-layered paintings of Ali Kazim and the challenging works of Ikra Tanweer, we look at minimalism in Pakistani art.
Painter Ali Kazim, whose work appears in collections at the Australian Art Gallery in Queensland and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, creates his works through the process of multi-layered performance; starting with a pencil and gradually accumulating layers of oil and water-based paints to create canvases with great texture and depth. Much of Kazim’s work focuses on the representation of the human body, and many of them are self-portraits or portraits of other men, although his recent series The Untitled (The Storm Series) is monochromatic and definitely more minimalist.
Anwar Jalal Shemza
Born in 1928 in India, Anwar Jalal Shemza was a successful artist, writer and printmaker who traveled to Lahore to study. In fact, in Lahore, Shemza set up his own studio, the Semi Commercial Art Studio, where he soon became famous in the Pakistani art community, editing the art and architecture magazine Ehsas and becoming an active member of the Lahore Art Circle. Early in his career, Shemza was influenced by the modernist Swiss German artist Paul Clay, although his later works included various Islamic elements with geometric images of Arabic calligraphy. Shemza’s Family Compositions Week (1963) – rhythmic, repetitive geometric shapes – is particularly demonstrative of the artist’s own interpretation of minimalism.
Originally trained in photography and miniature painting at the National College of Arts, Ayesha Jatoi is now not only a prominent Pakistani woman artist, but also the founder of the editor of the Contemporary Art and Culture newspaper.
An exhibition from the late 1990s, Jatoi’s work is on display in galleries in Boston, Stockholm and London, and her work is largely in the form of commentary on the creative process and a study of the relevance of artistic traditions.
Influenced by the spatial design of medieval illuminated manuscripts, much of Jatoi’s latest work is dominated by text, often without an accompanying image, leaving the viewer to express his or her own images of the text alone.
Despite the fact that Fahd Burke has published dozens of works, he is already a high-ranking Pakistani minimalist artist, displaying his works at international art fairs, including the Indian Art Summit in New Delhi, LISTE in Switzerland and Artissima in Italy. In 2013, during Art Dubai, Burke received the John Jones Award on Art on Paper, which recognizes outstanding and innovative works of paper. Following the John Jones Prize and the success of his outspoken works, Burke is also involved in a 2013 landscape program in Edinburgh. Inspired by historical and cultural symbols, as well as art history and popular culture, Burke creates minimalist paintings, digital prints and sculptures.
A diverse artist working in a variety of settings, including sculpture, photo collage, video installation and painting, Hamra Abbas has achieved minimalism on display at famous institutions such as the Singapore Museum of Art and the Artium Museum of Spain. Abbas is also a proud winner of the 2011 Abraaj Capital Art Award, which recognizes acclaimed artists from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. Her work, included in the Sydney Biennale and the Incheon International Biennial of Artists, is often a critique of the tradition in which she adapts to cultural and religious iconography.
Born in 1983 in Karachi, Pakistan, Iqra Tanveer has presented her work in solo and group exhibitions in India, Italy and the United Arab Emirates and has been hailed as one of the most talented artists to emerge from Pakistan in recent years. A participant in the International Biennial of Young Art in Moscow in 2013 and recipient of the Trunge Trust Residence in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Tanweer works mostly with video, photography, editing and kinetic sculpture and creates art that evokes perceptions of reality and illusion. One can think especially of his minimalist piece Eclipse (2013) – an ambiguous work of light and shadow, which makes viewers question the reality of its title.
The artist and activist Lala Rook is regularly considered one of the main innovators of South Asian minimalism and works mainly with painting and photography and produces monochrome works that examine nature, landscape and history – her graphite and gouache markings on an inlaid black background radiate a sense of magnetic, continuous energy. Also known as an influential art teacher, Ruch was the program director of the Master of Visual Arts program at the National College of Arts in Lahore, and her illusory and hypnotic works of art have been exhibited in galleries around the world.
Often considered one of the most important artists in Pakistan, Rashid Rana was born in Lahore in 1968 and explores the themes of politics, media and identity in his artistry. After completing a master’s program in arts and crafts at Columbia University in Massachusetts, Rana works around the world, represented in galleries in London, Japan and New York. Much of his artistic practice, which covers a wide range of media, including sculpture, photography, paintings and video performance, focuses on common issues in popular culture, faith and urbanization in the socio-political context.
Born in Lahore, Sarah Salman is a graduate of both the Pakistan National College of the Arts and the Prince’s School of Applied Arts and works worldwide. Her pieces are known in the Jerwood Gallery collection in the United Kingdom, which won her the “Jerwood Prize for Traditional Arts” in 2009. During his training, Salman focused on reproducing traditional geometry, a technique that is still seen in his current work, influenced by the structural forms of nature – one can think in particular about the microscopic anatomists of flowers and plant life and its series 2014 Tessellation of Hexagons and Rhombi.
Zahoor ul Akhlaq
Widely considered one of Pakistan’s pioneer artists in the 20th century, Zahoor ul Akhlaq was born in India and moved to Lahore as a young boy after Pakistani independence, where he later studied art at the National College of Arts in Lahore. The art of artist, sculptor and printing Aklek includes many influences, both old and new, such as the miniature style of Mughal painting, South Asian architecture and contemporary abstraction. Although his career was overshadowed by the unfortunate circumstances of his death in 1999, Ahlak’s artistic legacy continues to be seen as shaping the careers of contemporary Pakistani artists such as Rashid Rana and Shahsia Sikander.