In the Museums

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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the February 13,

2002 edition of U.S.

1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Fazal Sheikh: Refugees’ Witness & Advocate

Each of us is a product of our moment. Photographer

Fazal Sheikh, born in 1965, came of age in a time of warfare and


dislocation. The refugee has been a constant presence in his adult


A 1987 graduate of Princeton University, where he studied with Emmet

Gowin, Sheikh began his artistic career making humanistic portraits

of displaced individuals who most of the industrialized world saw

only a statistics. These were portraits photographs he took in Kenya’s

vast refugees camps that continue to house millions of Somali and

Sudanese refugee families today.

Now the Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick is hosting an exhibition

of Sheikh’s project from the 1990s that has proved only too timely,

"The Victor Weeps: Photographs by Fazal Sheikh of Afghan Refugees,

1996-98." The show, which opened in mid-January, continues to

March 31. A curator’s lunchtime presentation on the show takes place

Wednesday, February 20, at noon.

Over the course of more than 15 years’ work with refugee populations,

Sheikh has moved from art photographer to witness and documentarian.

His dignified portraits of individual and refugee families are


by personal stories; his recent books comprise complete histories

of political conflicts, population migrations, and their piecemeal


"`The Victor Weeps’ is intended to confront the viewer with a

reality which is more complex and interwoven than the one which we

have been presented by the media and our government," explained

Sheikh, in an interview from his home in Zurich last week. "I

would like the viewer to consider those layers of complexity and the

impact upon human beings of governmental, military, and political


Before Afghanistan re-emerged into a harsh international spotlight

on September 11, it had sustained more than 20 years of modern


Invaded by the Soviet Union in 1980, its people fought back with arms

supplied and paid for by the United States and others. But once the

Soviets were driven out, the ensuing civil war and its human toll

held little interest to the industrialized nations where the human

rights abuses of the Taliban were widely reported and yet tolerated.

Sheikh first traveled to Afghanistan in 1996 to trace his


origins there, and to explore human rights issues under the then-new

Taliban regime. He is his grandfather’s namesake. Being admitted into

the lives of the people he met there, however, shifted his focus to

a desire to chronicle the destruction of the ancient country and the

harsh lives of displaced Afghan refugees. Over the following two


he returned to Afghanistan several times. The images and documentary

texts in which individual refugees tell their stories were originally

published in 1998 as "The Victor Weeps" by Scalo Books.

Sheikh was born in 1965 to an American mother and Kenyan father; he

grew up in New York. Sheikh began working in Kenya while still at

Princeton, and soon after graduation made an overland trip across

Africa. The 1995 exhibition and publication of "A Sense of Common

Ground" marked the culmination of three years’ work in the refugee

communities of eastern and southern Africa where he came to know five

displaced communities from Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Mozambique, and


In 2001, Sheikh, who lives both in Zurich and New York, conceived

of a series of book projects which would further the awareness of

human rights issues around the world. The first two volumes, "A

Camel for the Son" and "Ramadan Moon," which concern the

situation of women refugees from Somalia, have been published with

support from the Swiss-based human rights organization, the Volkart

Foundation. This ground-breaking project is on the web at,

with documentary and descriptive texts provided in various languages,

including the refugees’ language of origin.

"I do not believe in the media and have lost faith in the current

processes of the publishing industry," Sheikh explains. "These

two books mark the start of a series which is intended to engage


human rights issues at a more profound level. Venues for such material

are few these days, but I believe that there is still a need to find

our way back to individual human values. The people that I meet in

the refugee communities have helped me come to that realization. The

distance between what they have taught me and what I see in the media

is vast."

Seven years ago, in 1994, Sheikh was named by the New York Times as

one of 30 artists "most likely to change our culture for the next

30 years." Clearly, as a committed human rights activist, he


eager to fulfill this mission.

— Nicole Plett

The Victor Weeps: Photographs by Fazal Sheikh of Afghan


Zimmerli Art Museum, George and Hamilton streets, New Brunswick,

732-932-7237. Show runs to March 31.

Memory and Testimony: Considering the Photography of Fazal

Sheikh, Zimmerli Art @ Lunch. A free talk by museum staff.


February 20, at 12:15 p.m.

Zimmerli Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to

4:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission $3 adults;

under 18 free. Spotlight tours Sundays at 2 and 3 p.m.

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In the Museums

Art Museum, Princeton University, 609-258-3788. "New

German Photography" features 15 works by such artists as Dieter

Appelt, Andreas Gursky, Candida Hofer, and Thomas Struth; to March

24. Also "Anxious Omniscience: Surveillance in Contemporary


Practice," to April 1. "Klinger to Kollwitz: German Art in

the Age of Expressionism," an exhibit of prints and drawings that

comprises an overview of late 19th and early 20th century German art,

addressing the variety of innovative and avant-garde styles that


the German artistic landscape between 1871 and 1933. Other artists

include Kandinsky, Bunter, Kirchner, Heckel, and Schmidt-Rottluff.

To June 9. Also "Guardians of the Tomb: Spirit Beasts in Tang

Dynasty China;" to August 31. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10

a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Free tours of the collection every

Saturday at 2 p.m.

Ellarslie, Trenton City Museum , Cadwalader Park,


"Artsbridge to Trenton," an invitational exhibition by members

of Artsbridge, a New Hope and Lambertville artists’ organization.

Exhibiting artists include Paul Matthews, Gail Bracegirdle, Vincent

Ceglia, Joy Kreves, George Radeschi, and Tomi Urayama. Open Tuesday

through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. To February


Hunterdon Museum of Art , Lower Center Street, Clinton,

908-735-8415. "2002 Members Exhibition" juried by Jeffrey

Wechsler, senior curator at the Zimmerli Art Museum. Also "William

Vandever: A Separate Reality," recent works in color and black

and white that investigate still life, and new computer generated

images. Museum hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. To



Michener Art Museum , 138 South Pine Street, Doylestown,

215-340-9800. "Stylish Hats: 200 Years of Sartuorial Sculpture,

a multitude of high-style creations that reflect the changing fashions

of designer hats from 1780 to 1970; to April 14. In the Children’s

Gallery, "Perspectives in Art," on view to February 28. Open


to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.;

and Wednesday evenings to 9 p.m. $6.

Also "Roy C. Nuse: Figures and Landscapes," an exhibition

of works by the influential Bucks County artist and teacher (1885

to 1975) who trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts where

he studied with Daniel Garber. Nuse and his wife, artist Ellen


moved to Bucks County; Nuse taught at the Pennsylvania Academy for

29 years. Show runs to May 12.

New Jersey State Museum , 205 West State Street, Trenton,

609-292-6464. "George Washington and the Battle of Trenton: The

Evolution of an American Image," an exhibition that documents

the historic context of the American Revolution, the "Ten Crucial

Days" of the Trenton campaign that was the turning point, and

the subsequent commemoration of George Washington’s heroic image by

American artists. To February 24. Also "Images of Americans on

the Silver Screen," to April 14. "Art by African-Americans

in the Collection," to August 18. Museum hours are Tuesday through

Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.; Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Website:

On extended view: "New Jersey’s Native Americans: The


Record"; "Delaware Indians of New Jersey"; "The Sisler

Collection of North American Mammals"; "Of Rock and Fire";

"Neptune’s Architects"; "The Modernists"; "New

Jersey Ceramics, Silver, Glass and Iron."

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