Fazal Sheikh grew up in New York, but the grandfather he was named for was born in India and raised Muslim in the northern area that later became Pakistan. In 1912 his grandfather migrated within the British Commonwealth to Kenya to seek his fortune. He became a prosperous merchant in Nairobi and eventually bought a home in Medina–to be close to the birthplace of Muhammad–where he was buried. His American namesake, born ten years after he died, became a photographer with a hunger to know his roots.
Sheikh traveled to Kenya and Pakistan, camera in hand, tracing his grandfather’s path in reverse. When he arrived in Pakistan in 1996, he found it occupied by hundreds of thousands of Afghans–refugees from the war against communism that had been devastating their country for 20 years. He photographed them over a two-year period, compiling a dramatic portfolio of black-and-white portraits that was published in 1998, along with brief biographical remarks in the subjects’ own words, as The Victor Weeps.
Photos from that period and from time Sheikh spent with Somali refugees and migrant workers in Brazil are on view in a four-part exhibition at Northwestern University’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art through June 23. At noon on Friday, April 19, he’ll talk about his work with African refugees in the seminar room of the African studies program at 620 Library Place; at 6 that night he’ll give a multimedia presentation based on his series “Ramadan Moon” and students and faculty will give gallery talks on his exhibition as part of a student-organized opening at the museum, 1967 South Campus Dr. On Tuesday, April 23, at 6, he’ll discuss The Victor Weeps at the museum. All events are free and on the Evanston campus. Call 847-491-4000.