Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Daughters of India: Fazal Sheikh Photography

I recently went to check out the temporary exhibits at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art the other day and was absolutely stunned by the amazing photography exhibit I saw there. Showcasing the work of Fazal Sheikh, an artist-activist who uses photography to create portraits of communities around the world, was a two-part exhibit.

The first showed the abandoned widows of India who have been driven to the safety of ashrams in a holy city where they exchanged prayers for food. In India, widows are no longer cared for by their husbands' families, unless they're very lucky. And since women are seen as a burden on society, they are not accepted back into their parents' homes. They are forced to make a life for themselves, which leads many of them to a place where they can be with others like them and try to scrape out a living by chanting for worshippers.

The photography is absolutely stellar. What Sheikh chose to capture when he wasn't focusing on the women's heavily-lined faces (or the backs of their heads for those I assume didn't want their face photographed), he chose the most heart-breaking details of these widows lives to show. Things like the pet rats who offer some of the women the only comfort they find in life other than their devotion to Krishna, or simply their hands folded as if in resignation at the life they've been forced to accept.

The second part of the exhibit also focused on the unwanted girls and women in Indian culture, this time showing the faces and bits of the lives of girls at a shelter.

Some were sent to the city as young as 3-4 years of age to make a living "however they can" and send it back to their families, and others are women who have run away from their husbands because of physical abuse.

The stories of all of these women are absolutely heartbreaking, and are the perfect match for the beautifully-shot images. They are the most evokative collection of photography I think I've ever seen in my entire life.

I highly suggest you take the time to visit before the exhibit ends September 13th.

You can also find his photography books of these series available on his website. This link will lead you to the widows and this one leads you to the girls at the shelter.

Related posts:
LOVE ME Photo Essay Shows Pain of Poverty, Abuse
Sociological Images Deconstructs Our Culture
Photography Philanthropy: Blue Earth Alliance

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