Preview: Exhibition: Letters from India

Anwar Shemza

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Today to Feb 1

This collection of work by the South Asian artist begins with the lust for anything of Indian influence from the Sixties and ends with blending it with Eighties Western culture.

"There are now two generations of non-Western settlers. Anwar represents the first generation," says Reyahn King, Curator at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. "Now people are very aware of the second generation - with artists like Chris Ofili and Anish Kapoor - moving beyond group exhibitions, and towards recognising individuals. It is important to stress that this exhibition is happening as much because Shemza is an important local - but under recognised - artist as much as for political reasons. This is not a tokenist show, it is about good art."

arrived in England from Pakistan in 1956 to join the Slade Art School. He fell in love and stayed in England after finding that he couldn't earn enough money as a teacher in Pakistan.

It was during this time that Shemza became well known, exhibiting alongside artists like Yves Klein and F N Souza at Gallery 1. His paintings concentrated on developing form and line towards a linear style, an abstraction that combined Islamic influences through calligraphy, often using letters like the Roman B and D or the S-curve. This was popular Western abstract art (as typified in Yves Klein's kaleidoscopic and geometric designs), and Islamic detail inspired from the intricacy of Mogul architecture.

"One day I locked myself in my room, stood in front of a mirror and had a heart-to-heart talk. It was a bitter experience. The result was the decision to start again from the beginning. And to hide the face of that `celebrated' artist, I grew a beard," said Shemza, referring to his choice in the 1970's to withdraw from the commercial art scene and concentrate upon teaching. However, he carried on in a similar idiom, whilst also producing a series of drawings with a Paul Klee-like expression of the mind.

His final series - from 1977 until his death in 1985 - enabled Shemza to find a final and happy marriage between his experience of Western and non-Western culture, answering his earlier realisation that: "No longer was the answer simply to begin again; the search was for my own identity".

, at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Chamberlain Square, Birmingham (0121-303 2834). Free entry. There will also be a programme of events, including talks, readings and traditional music.

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