September 2018 – June 2019 Currie C. and Thomas A. Barron Visiting Professor in the Environment and the Humanities and Visiting Professor in the Lewis Center for the Arts and the Princeton Environmental Institute
Fazal Sheikh uses photographs to document people living in displaced and marginalized communities around the world, including East Africa, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Brazil, Cuba, India and Israel/Palestine. He aims to foster a wider understanding of these groups, to respect them as individuals and to counter the ignorance and prejudice that is often attached to them. He also works closely with human rights organizations and widely disseminates his work in forms that can be of use to the communities themselves.
His principal medium is the portrait, although his work also includes personal narratives, found photographs, archival material, sound and his own written texts. His work has been exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide and he has published numerous collections.
A native of New York City, Sheikh received his bachelor’s degree from Princeton in 1987. He has received many awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship (1992), a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (1994), a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” Fellowship (2005), and a Guggenheim Fellowship (2012).
While at Princeton
Sheikh built upon his work documenting the environmental and social injustices experienced by Indigenous peoples in the American Southwest, particularly in Utah. For his spring 2019 course, “Exposure: The Storied Landscape of Bears Ears National Monument and America’s Public Lands,” students explored the politics and ethics of place through the lens of culture, ecology, fossil fuel development, and climate change. The class included a spring trip to Bears Ears National Monument where students met with local activists and community members about the cultural significance of the land and efforts to protect it from extractive industries.
Sheikh and students in the class organized the multi-site public exhibition, “Public Lands, Private Hands: An Exhibition Depicting the Exploration and Exploitation of the American West,” which featured Sheikh’s photographs documenting the ruination of the Utah landscape by uranium mining, oil and gas extraction, and the militarization of the desert. The exhibition included student artwork exploring the mythologies of preservation politics and histories of displacement and return, as well as photographs from the University’s collections documenting Native American villages across the Southwest.
The exhibition included two public events held at the University focused on themes of Native American land rights and environmental justice. Leaders and community activists from the Native American-led grassroots organization Utah Diné Bikéyah — as well as from the Ute Mountain Ute, Hopi, Navajo, Acoma and Delaware Tribes — gathered to discuss the preservation of sacred lands. They were joined by author Terry Tempest Williams. The follow-up roundtable discussion, “Repatriation: A Local and Global Conversation,” addressed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
For his PEI Faculty Seminar, “Exposure: The Intersection Between People and Place,” Sheikh recounted his work in the American Southwest capturing the resilience of Native communities in protecting their lands from environmental degradation by corporations and the U.S. government. As part of the Environmental Humanities and Social Transformation Colloquium sponsored by PEI, Sheikh discussed the five years of research and documentation that resulted in “The Erasure Trilogy,” which explored the violence, cultural displacement and environmental ruin of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In addition, Sheikh hosted a public discussion with author Teju Cole about their book collaboration, “Human Archipelago,” which combines Sheikh’s photographs of displaced peoples from across the world with Cole’s prose to explore themes of global community and individual resilience.