Fazal Sheikh at media preview talking to reporters in front of some of his photographs

Photographer Fazal Sheikh & Curator Eric Paddock Lead Preview of Common Ground

On August 10, the Denver Art Museum invited the media to see a preview of our newest exhibition, Common Ground: Photographs by Fazal Sheikh, 1989–2013. After an introduction from Christoph Heinrich, Frederick and Jan Mayer Director of the DAM, Eric Paddock, the DAM’s curator of photography, and photographer Fazal Sheikh led a tour throughout the exhibition.

Photos & Testimonials

Sheikh’s nearly 25-year career of raising awareness of human rights through photography is chronicled in the exhibition. Visitors will find more than 170 portrait and landscape photographs that tell the stories of individuals living in displace and marginalized communities around the world.

Sheikh’s photographs are accompanied by books full of first-person testimonies from the subjects of the portraits. Sheikh explained that these testimonies can offer specific, intimate voices through which we can better understand people. The testimonies allow him to the augment the photographs.

War Widows

Paddock specifically called out a photograph at the beginning of the exhibition—a portrait of two young women, Borana war widows Dakie Galma Sora and Dira Wako Guyo—who had walked over 600 miles, barefoot through the desert, to get to an Ethiopian refugee camp. What drew him to the portrait was how the photograph reflected the women’s resilience and strength, rather than the ordeal they had to go through.

Getting to Know His Subjects

Paddock credits Sheikh’s own personality and kindness with the tenderness that is visible in the photographs, and he explained that many of the photographs Sheikh makes are different from what you might see from a journalist because Sheikh spends so much more time at the sites he visits than a journalist typically would. This allows Sheikh to get to know the area, the community, and the sitters of his portraits.

Revisiting a Feeding Center

Many of the projects Sheikh worked on throughout his career were ongoing. One included visits to a Kenyan feeding center, where the most malnourished children were taken upon arrival to the refugee camp. After spending weeks photographing the mothers, siblings, and children at the feeding center, Sheikh left Kenya. When he returned eight years later for a new project, he was able to photograph some of the same children he had captured on film years before, who had lived because of the feeding center. Photographs from these two visits can be viewed on adjacent walls in the exhibition.

Common Ground is on view August 13–November 12. The Member Preview is August 12.

Carolyn Davidson was the 2017 summer writing intern in the marketing department at the Denver Art Museum.

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