Corrections or additions?
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
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
732-932-7237. Show runs to March 31.
Sheikh, Zimmerli Art @ Lunch. A free talk by museum staff.
February 20, at 12:15 p.m.
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.
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.
"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
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
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.
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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