- For five hundred years the holy city of Vrindavan in northern India has been a haven for India’s dispossessed widows. Cast out by their families and condemned by strict marital laws which deny them legal, economic and, in extreme cases, even human rights, they have made their way to the city to worship at its temples and live in its ashrams, surviving on charitable hand-outs or begging on the streets. In Vrindavan they worship the young god Krishna, who invades their dreams, helping them to cast off memories from their past life and prepare for a new and better life to come. Their ultimate dream is to reach Moksha—heaven—where they will find freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth and live surrounded by their gods forever. Fazal Sheikh’s photographs capture the meditative mood of the city and his portraits of the widows convey their sense of acceptance of life nearing its end and a longing for what is to come. As in his previous books he spent time with his subjects, listening to their stories, many of which reveal the suffering caused by traditions that still govern Indian society. Through his depiction of the city and its inhabitants, Fazal Sheikh once again contributes to our knowledge and understanding of a community whose existence, to those who live outside it, remains closed.
For almost two decades now, Fazal Sheikh has been working among displaced people in East Africa, South America and Asia, making photographs and recording testimonies that bring home to us the realities of their lives. For his last book, Moksha, he went to Vrindavan, one of India’s holy cities, where Hindu widows come to live out their last years. It was while listening to their stories that Sheikh began to comprehend the full extent to which women in India are the victims of religious and cultural codes that reduce many of them to little more than child-rearing servants. He returned to India to find out more from young women growing up in a society that, whatever economic advances it may boast, is still widely prejudiced against them. This book, Ladli — which in Hindi means ‘beloved daughter’—is the result.
The stories told here will come as a shock to many: the abortion of thousands of healthy fetuses every year because of their gender, the murder at birth of baby girls, the abduction and rape of adolescents forced into prostitution, the exploitation of child labor, the physical abuse of domestic workers and, worst of all, the murder of young women whose dowries, or performance as wives, does not match their husbands’, or their husbands’ families’, expectations.
Through a network of street-level activists, Sheikh builds up a picture of India that undermines its new role as a modern democracy. His portraits have a directness and articulacy that painfully reinforce the stories they tell. Some of the strongest voices in this book belong to older women, who have overcome personal tragedies and are determined to fight so that other women might avoid them.
What does it say about a country that it mistreats its women? It is not for lack of legislation that women continue to be abused in India, but because the police, the judiciary and the government fail to enforce the laws made to protect them. How can such an ingrained system be reformed? To answer that, we need to understand more about its victims, and in this Fazal Sheikh is a reliable guide.
- Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art
- Organized and written by renowned scholar and ICP Adjunct Curator Okwui Enwezor, Archive Fever presents works by leading contemporary artists who use archival documents to rethink the meaning of identity, history, memory, and loss. Over the past 30 years, artists have taken wide-ranging approaches to the photographic and filmic archive. The works presented here take many forms, including physical archives arranged by unconventional cataloguing methods, imagined biographies of fictitious persons, collections of found and anonymous photographs, film versions of photographic albums, and photomontages composed of historical photographs. The subject matter is diverse yet linked by the artists’ shared meditation on photography and film as the quintessential media of the archive. Artists in the exhibition include Tacita Dean, Stan Douglas, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Zoe Leonard, Ilán Lieberman, Walid Raad, Thomas Ruff, Anri Sala, Fazal Sheikh, Eyal Sivan, Lorna Simpson, and Vivan Sundaram, among others.
- The Circle
- The portrait is fundamental to Fazal Sheikh’s photography: his subjects face the camera without gestures or dramatization, but also without fear. As viewers, we can look into their faces and simultaneously recognize our kinship with them, as human beings, but also understand the significant difference of personal experience. This is not a naïve exercise in attempting to “read the soul;” at its best it is a search for common ground, an understanding of what it is to experience life and survive it.
- Darkside, Vol. 2: Photographic Power and Photographed Violence, Disease and Death
Following the survey of photographed sexuality and lust in Darkside I, the other end of the physical spectrum is illuminated: the intimate affinity between death and photography – impairment, disease, degeneration, violence and death, pain, grief and loss.
Recording death is, along with war reporting, one of photography’s original tasks. Pictures of horror are often shocking and yet “bestselling”. They provoke questions about exploitation, complicity and power relationships – infront of and behind the camera and in the photograph itself. Photography often provokes accusations that it aestheticizes misery, creating a “pornography of horror”. Enlightenment quickly turns into transfiguration, photographic enlightenment into commerce.
Darkside I and II examine Eros and Thanatos in pictures and words. With photographs by Antoine d’Agata, Hans Danuser, F. Holland Day, Peter Hujar, Sally Mann, Enrique Metinides, Ishiuchi Miyako, Gilles Peress, Sophie Ristelhueber, Andres Serrano, Fazal Sheikh, Cindy Sherman, W. Eugene Smith, Weegee and many others.
- Schmatz! [∫mats!]* - Lunches at Steidl created by Rüdiger Schellong
“Schmatz \shmäts\ 1: smacking one’s lips in anticipation of good food; 2: eating noisily; 3: big sloppy air kisses”
An innovative art book that includes recipes, a cookbook that includes art, Schmatz! speaks to the creative practices of publishing and cookery as experienced at Steidlville. Renowned artists from around the world travel to little Göttingen, Germany to collaborate with celebrated publisher and printer, Gerhard Steidl, creating outstanding books of exceptional quality. Personally involved in every stage of their book’s creation, artists make the rounds from image processing, colour proofing, to design, paper choice, and finally to press. While there is a great amount of satisfaction in the process, it is rigorous and highly demanding. The one hour when guests are allowed to slow down is lunchtime at Steidl’s table, enjoying the simple yet spectacularly delicious, lovingly prepared and served meals by chef Rüdiger Schellong.
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