Portraits of the displaced on view in “Homelands and Histories: Photographs by Fazal Sheikh” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in May
The exhibition celebrates a major acquisition of works spanning decades and continents
HOUSTON, Texas—April 3, 2017—For the past 25 years, photographer Fazal Sheikh has captured images of refugees and other displaced or marginalized communities in Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East. In May, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, celebrates a major acquisition of 75 photographs spanning the artist’s career, made possible by a generous grant from Jane P. Watkins. Nearly all of the newly acquired photographs will be featured in Homelands and Histories: Photographs by Fazal Sheikh, a tightly focused presentation of images from each of Sheikh’s key projects, on view in two galleries in the Audrey Jones Beck Building from May 6 to September 4.
Rather than sweeping in, taking pictures, and heading out on the next flight, Sheikh spends weeks, months, or even years with the communities he portrays, developing an understanding of their history and culture and building a collaborative rapport with the individuals he photographs. A portraitist of uncommon sensitivity, Sheikh approaches his subjects with compassion and respect, hoping to counter ignorance and prejudice with a profound sense of shared humanity. Running throughout his work are threads of memory and history, remembrances of homes and loved ones that were once—and remain—essential elements of individual and communal identity. Sheikh explores those threads not only in the faces of individuals, but also in their visible traces on the landscape and in the way they are revealed poetically in moments of transition—dawn and dusk, dreams and death.
“Through the generosity of Jane Watkins; the artist; and Pace/MacGill Gallery, the MFAH has been able to expand its holdings of Fazal Sheikh’s photographs seven-fold, with groups of images from each of the photographer’s principal bodies of work,” said Gary Tinterow, director of the MFAH. “It is more than we dreamed possible, and we are eager to share Sheikh’s vision of his fellow man with Houston’s diverse audiences.”
Malcolm Daniel, the Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator of Photography, who organized the exhibition, added, “Sheikh’s deep sense of humanity and clear respect for his subjects are beautifully conveyed in his photographs. His is a welcome voice at a time marked by so much fear and distrust of people from the very places Sheikh has chosen to explore with his camera.”
Homelands and Histories: Photographs by Fazal Sheikh features work from the following series:
- Early Work, late 1980s, taken in South Africa and Kenya
- A Sense of Common Ground and A Camel for the Son, early 1990s and again in 2000, taken in Ethiopian, Somali, and Sudanese refugee camps in Kenya, and the Mozambican refugee camps in Malawi
- The Victor Weeps, 1996–98, taken in Afghan refugee communities in northwestern Pakistan
- Moksha, 2003–05, taken in the holy Indian city of Vrindavan, where many women in their final years go to find solace in a sisterhood of widows
- Ladli, 2005–07, a focus on young Indian women taken in orphanages, hospitals, schools, and charity shelters throughout the region
- Ether, 2008–12, an exploration of sleep, dream and death photographed on the streets of the sacred city of Benares, India, and Sheikh’s first project in color
- Erasure, 2011–13, a trilogy photographed in Israel and Palestine, comprising Memory Trace, depicting the ruins caused by the Arab–Israeli war of 1948; Desert Bloom, aerial views of the Negev Desert revealing the traces left by mining, military training camps, the demolition of villages, and afforestation that have displaced Bedouin communities; and Independence | Nakba, double portraits of Israelis and Palestinians born each year since 1948
A number of Sheikh’s portraits are accompanied by first-person texts that the artist recorded and transcribed, and in several cases Museum visitors will be able to listen to audio clips of Sheikh reading his subjects’ personal testimonies.
About the Artist
Born in New York City in 1965, Fazal Sheikh studied photography at Princeton University under Emmet Gowin and currently lives and works in Zurich, Switzerland. Since 1987, he has worked as a photographer documenting the lives of individuals and communities around the world. Sheikh is the recipient of many awards, including Fulbright, Guggenheim, MacArthur, and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, as well as honors acknowledging the essential humanism of his work, such as the Prix Dialogue de l’Humanité, Rencontres d’Arles (2003), the Lucie Humanitarian Award (2009), and the Lou Stoumen Prize (2016), among others.
Organization and Funding
This exhibition is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Generous support is provided by Joseph M. Cohen and W. Temple Webber III.
About the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Established in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is among the 10 largest art museums in the United States, with an encyclopedic collection of more than 65,000 works dating from antiquity to the present. The main campus comprises the Audrey Jones Beck Building, designed by Rafael Moneo and opened in 2000; the Caroline Wiess Law Building, originally designed by William Ward Watkin, with extensions by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe completed in 1958 and 1974; and the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, designed by Isamu Noguchi and opened in 1986. Additional spaces include a repertory cinema, two libraries, public archives, and facilities for conservation and storage. Nearby, two house museums—Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, and Rienzi—present American and European decorative arts. The MFAH is also home to the Glassell School of Art and its acclaimed Core Residency Program and Junior and Studio Schools; and the International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA), a leading research institute for 20th-century Latin American and Latino art.