Art Dubai Modern: Pakistani Modernists 1950-1990

20 - 24 March 2018

At the 2018 edition of Art Dubai Modern we are exhibiting works by some of the most important and influential Pakistani painters of the late 20th century. Many of the works will be exhibited for the first time in decades.


Zahoor ul-AKHLAQ (1941-1999)

Zahoor ul Akhlaq was a pioneering artist whose practice and teaching has influenced generations.  His art spans a variety of media that includes painting, print making, sculpture, architecture and graphic design. He is widely regarded as a late modernist, arguably the first conceptualist, and the 'architect' behind the Contemporary Miniature movement originating from the National College of Arts in Lahore.


In his practice, Zahoor ul Akhlaq sought to create a dialogue with the viewer on canvas (and other media) making them an active participant in the reading of the work. Akhlaq trained under the strong modernist influence of Shakir Ali at The National College of Arts in Lahore, which can be seen in the work 'Bull on Red'. His consistent experimentation and distinctive approach imbibed 'traditional' influences such as Islamic calligraphy, Mughal miniatures, folk art, architecture, as well as his interests in Western art history, philosophy, and literature. As a person who was deeply rooted in his culture, his contributions as a practitioner and a teacher are still felt and respected.


Ismail GULGEE (1926-2007)

Born in Peshawar in 1926, the self-taught Gulgee began to paint while studying hydraulics in the US. He held his first exhibition in Stockholm in 1950, where he worked briefly as a design engineer, followed by his first exhibition in Pakistan three years later. A gifted portraitist, Gulgee enjoyed regular state patronage and elite commissions throughout his career, including the Afghani Royal Family, as well as US presidents Jimmy Carter and George HW Bush, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, King Hussein of Jordan and Farah Pahlavi, Empress of Iran.


He was however best known worldwide for his abstract work, which was inspired by Islamic calligraphy and was also influenced by the action painting movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Gulgee received his first extended exposure to abstract expressionism in 1960 through an exhibition in Karachi of American painter Elaine Hamilton. Gulgee adapted action painting's energy and gesture to a Pakistani context, using virtuoso brushwork to produce large, free-flowing calligraphic abstractions that captured the mystical dance of Sufi dervishes. As with the works of other action painters, Gulgee's canvases were often quite large. He was also known for using materials such as mirror glass and gold or silver leaf in his oil paintings. His work was exhibited extensively throughout his career and is held in a number of important public and private collections around the world.


Ahmed PARVEZ (1926-1979)

Ahmed Parvez is known as one of Pakistan's most remarkable artists, and during his lifetime, was widely acclaimed both locally and internationally. He started his artistic career in Lahore, where in 1952 he was awarded the first prize at an exhibition at Punjab University. From his first solo exhibition in 1952 to his last in 1979, he went through a few different phases as a painter, but mainly focused on still-life images. All of his works are characterized by an underlining energy.

In 1955, Parvez moved to London where he founded the Pakistan Group and where he became a member of the Lahore Group. No matter the distance from his motherland, Parvez remained faithful to his identity and continued to raise awareness in Pakistan about art trends in Europe, while he tried to adapt this modernism to fit his own artistic idiom. One of the figures who helped Parvez in shaping his artistic vocabulary was British painter Alan Davie. During his stay in London, Parvez had several exhibitions in Europe and the USA, where his work was well received. In 1989 his work was included in the seminal exhibition 'The Other Story, Afro-Asian Artists in Post-War Britain', curated by Rasheed Araeen. We are exhibiting two of these works at Art Dubai.


Anwar Jalal SHEMZA (1928-1985)

Anwar Jalal Shemza was an artist and writer active in Pakistan and later the United Kingdom. Despite being better known as an artist, Shemza published several Urdu novels and books of poetry in the 1950s and wrote plays performed on Radio Pakistan. Shemza was initially influenced by Modernism most notably Paul Klee although later works also showed a traditional Islamic influence. In England, Shemza started to incorporate Islamic themes into his work. His Meem series of the 1960s was based on the first letter of the prophet Mohammed's name. His Roots series started in the 1970s and showed imaginary plants and roots derived from Arabic script below, while his silkscreen The Page from 1984 showed Arabic letters in illegible patterns. Whilst in London he exhibited with Gallery One and the New Vision Centre, and his works appear in a number of public institutions including Tate Britain and Birmingham and Bradford Museums.


Syed SADEQUAIN (1930-1987)

Sadequain is one of the most respect and revered South Asian artists of the late 20th century. Little is known of his early life, however his rise to fame began in the mid-1950s, when he began exhibiting in Karachi and caught the attention of the city's art patrons. His time spent convalescing at the port town of Gadani bought about a change in his work, introducing the theme of the cactus as a symbol of triumph over adversity. After winning a national prize he moved to Paris in 1960. The following years would be amongst the most important of his life as an artist, and it was here he produced his best work. It is this period which we focus on at the gallery.


In 1966 his designs for Albert Camus' novel L'Etranger were published, one of the highlights of his time in Paris and an enduring artistic legacy of the artist. He returned to Pakistan in 1967 and continued to employ themes explored in Europe; calligraphy, cacti and human forms. He is a hugely important and influential figure in the region, and a major cultural icon in Pakistan.