Amidst the current refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East, and the tightening of immigration rules and regulations around the world, Fazal Sheikh photography brings us closer to the face that is bearing the strain of these changes – the face of the displaced and the marginalized. The major acquisition of 75 photographs by this prolific artist is made possible by a generous grant from Jane P. Watkins, and is a reason behind the exhibition Homelands and Histories: Photographs by Fazal Sheikh, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), that will open this May. The acquired works span decades and continents, and come from several of Sheikh’s key projects that mark his artistic career.
A Portraitist of Uncommon Sensitivity
Fazal Sheikh has been documenting lives of people from around the world for several decades, focusing on the displaced and marginalized communities from South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. His photographs show a deep respect for subjects he is capturing, coupled with a deep sense of shared humanity. He was not taking his photos on the go, so to speak, but would rather spend weeks, months, or even years with his subjects, immersing himself into lives, customs, and circumstances that surround them. Understanding of a culture was of a paramount importance to Fazal Sheikh, and his work acquired by MFAH, displays just that - an uncommon sensitivity towards essential elements of individual and communal identity.
The exhibition Homelands and Histories will feature photographs from Early Work, A Sense of Common Ground, A Camel for the Sun, The Victor Weeps, Moksha, Ladli, Ether, and Erasure series. The photographs will be accompanied by the texts that the artist recorded and later transcribed, including the audio recordings in which Sheikh reads his subjects’ personal testimonies. These editions were created from the late 1980s onwards in South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Malawi, Pakistan, India, Israel, and Palestine. Moving from refugee camps to holy Indian city of Vrindavan, and from Negev Desert to the ruins caused by the Arab-Israeli war, Fazal Sheikh captured the unfaltering face of resistance and resilience, present on all meridians.
Fazal Sheikh Photography and Life
Currently living and working in Zurich, Fazal Sheikh was born in New York City in 1965, and studied photography at the University of Princeton, under Emmet Gowin. He started documenting the lives of different individuals and communities as a photographer in 1987, taking his camera with him around the world. His professional career has been marked with numerous awards and fellowships, such as Fulbright, MacArthur, Guggenheim, and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships. He is also the recipient of honors that acknowledge the essential humanism of his work, such as Prix Dialogue de l’Humanité, Rencontres d’Arles (2003), the Lou Stoumen Prize (2016), and the Lucie Humanitarian Award (2009), among others.
Homelands and Histories - Photographs by Fazal Sheikh at MFAH
The exhibition titled Homelands and Histories: Photographs by Fazal Sheikh, opens at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, on May 6th, and remains on view until September 4th, 2017. The exibiiton will be staged in two galleries in the Audrey Jones Beck Building.
Featured images: Fazal Sheikh - Dawn along the Yamuna, Vrindavan, India, detail, from the series Moksha, 2005, inkjet print, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum purchase funded by Jane P. Watkins.Latitude: 31°21’7”N / Longitude: 34°46’27” E—Earthwork in Preparation for the Planting of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) Ambassador Forest on the Site of the Erased Homesteads of the Abu Jāber, Abu Mdīghem, and Abu Freih Families, Unrecognized Bedouin Village of al-’Araqib, the Negev, from the series Desert Bloom, October 9, 2011, inkjet print, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum purchase funded by Jane P. Watkins. All images courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.