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>  News Releases >   2003 >   February

How the people live through war

Posted 02/18/03, by Sharon Reed

Photographer Fazal Sheikh chronicles war refugees from western Africa

A new exhibition featuring the work of internationally known and celebrated photographer Fazal Sheikh will open in the Hood Museum of Art's Gutman Gallery on Feb. 22 and will remain on view through June 22. Sheikh uses portrait photography to raise public awareness about the long-term effects of war on women, children and the elderly. This exhibition, A Sense of Common Ground: Excerpts, features 12 works that focus on the plight of eastern African refugees. Sheikh accompanies his portraits with individualized narratives that confront the viewer with the dignity and grace that has guided these victims through war, displacement and exile.

The Village Voice (Sept. 18–24, 2002) notes that Sheikh "makes intensely sympathetic, emotionally complex portraits of people who are too often seen as little more than ciphers or symbols . . ."

A Sense of Common Ground will open in conjunction with the artist's five-day residency at the Hood Museum of Art. He will present a public talk about his photography and conduct a special performance piece. The performance, Ramadan Moon, was one of the first of a series of projects conceived by Sheikh in 2001 to engage an international audience in a dialogue about complex human rights issues around the world. This particular performance uses narrative and images to recount the experiences of a Somali woman exiled in the Netherlands.

Fazal Sheikh, a New Yorker of American, Kenyan, and Pakistani heritage, has worked in eastern Africa, Brazil, Afghanistan, and the U.S.-Mexican border capturing images of vulnerable populations. Combining portrait photography with personal narratives collected from the refugees, Sheikh records the effects of inter- and intra-community networks in overcoming racial, political, religious, gender, economic, and ethnic persecution.

The exhibition precedes a War and Peace Studies conference to be held at Dartmouth in the spring. Barbara Thompson, Curator of African, Oceanic, and Native American Collections at the Hood Museum of Art, notes, "The exhibition is relevant to our current history, especially the political tensions around the world that center on religious, ethnic, and cultural differences and persecution. At the most basic level, Sheikh's images confront us with the long-lasting consequences of armed conflicts upon civilian populations."

Two of Sheikh's images have recently entered the Hood Museum of Art's collection and are featured in this exhibition: Amina Alio Abdi and her son Mohammed, 1992, and Wezemana ("God is great") with her sleeping brother Mitonze, 1995. "The viewer is immediately struck by the commonality of a genre given two very different subtexts," says Thompson. "The familiar Madonna and Child aspect of Amina Alio Abdi and her son Mohammed resonates with Christian religious paintings and icons in the collection. Yet the portrait's title informs us that this is a Muslim mother, dressed and posed in a classic eastern African Muslim manner. This is no coincidence: Christianity and Islam emerged from the common ground of the Old Testament. As is Sheikh's intention, the Christian and Muslim worlds are reminded of — and bound by — their similarities rather than their differences. Similarly, Wezemana with her sleeping brother Mitonze also echoes a mother and child motif. However, the girl's youth and innocence strike a chilling chord when the title reveals that this little girl and her infant brother are survivors of the Rwanda genocide. I can't think of anything more powerful today than the contemplation of such multilayered messages in Sheikh's works."

Fazal Sheikh's residency is sponsored by the Hood Museum of Art, the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity/Bildner Foundation, The John Sloane Dickey Center for International Understanding/War and Peace Studies, African and African American Studies, Leslie Humanities Center at Dartmouth College, Studio Art Department/Photography, Art History Department, Amnesty International, Nelson A. Rockefeller Center/McSpadden Public Issues Forum. The exhibition is made possible by the William B. Jaffe and Evelyn A. Hall Fund.

The Hood Museum of Art's hours of operation are Tuesday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., with evening hours on Wednesday until 9 p.m.; Sunday, 12 p.m.–5 p.m.. Admission is free. The museum galleries and the Arthur M. Loew Auditorium are wheelchair accessible. For more information, directions, or to search the collections, visit the museum's website at www.hoodmuseum.dartmouth.edu or call 646-2808.

- Sharon Reed

Associated Events

Performance
Feb. 21, Friday, 4 p.m.
Arthur M. Loew Auditorium
"Seynab's Ramadan Moon," Fazal Sheikh

Artist Talk
Feb. 22, Saturday, 4 p.m.
Arthur M. Loew Auditorium
Fazal Sheikh will speak about his work. A reception will follow in Kim Gallery. Cosponsored by the Hood Museum of Art and the War and Peace Studies Program.

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