Frieze New York 2016

05 May – 08 May 2016

Zahoor ul Akhlaq


The art of Zahoor ul Akhlaq (1941–1999) is born from a profound encounter between Western modernism and South Asian aesthetic values. Zahoor played a seminal role in the conceptual dialogue that many contemporary artists had, and are continuing to have, with the tradition of miniature painting. An artist affiliated with the National College of Art in Lahore, he is acknowledged as a singular influence on the current generation of artists from Pakistan, including Imran Qureshi, Rashid Rana and Shahzia Sikander.

As a student in London in the late 1960s, Zahoor recognised the potential of harnessing the formal innovations of 17th-century Mughal and Persian paintings—subtle shifts in perspective and scale, loose application of paint and a play with margins. He began to juxtapose the fluid spaces and floating images from Asian traditions with the contemporary influence of two central art movements of the 1960s: pop art and colour field painting.

By the 1970s Zahoor had begun to experiment with the three-dimensional forms of sculpture and architecture, adopting the grid which became dominant in his work. For him, the grid was a construct embedded in both Islamic geometry and modernism. The grid in his paintings was soon replaced by frames and windows: playing with the flat two-dimensional character of the surface, Zahoor contrasted this with the illusionist view offered through the open window.

Jhaveri Contemporary presents paintings and a single sculpture, from the 80s and 90s, a period during which Zahoor was a Fulbright Research Fellow at Yale and also held a Visiting Professorship at Bilkent University in Turkey. Zahoor’s career unfolded in post-colonial Pakistan—he was a witness to political and social instability, militarisation and Islamisation. He addressed these issues by abstracting motifs into a rarefied pictorial schema. However minimal his paintings appeared, they were suffused with content: a magic realism linking the traditional world of miniature painting with modernism.