Thursday, January 14, 2010

Beloved Daughters: Photographs by Fazal Sheikh

Beloved Daughters is the current exhibition at the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. It features photographs taken by an American artist-activist, Fazal Sheikh from two prior exhibitions, Ladli (beloved daughters) and Moksha (heaven). Yesterday, a friend and I saw it. The photographs are stunning and I will never be able to forget the eyes - dark, beautiful eyes - of the girls and women forgotten, oppressed, poor in India. The black and white photographs have white mats and the picture frames are light (ash colored) wood. They are accompanied by oral testimonies, many of which are heartbreaking, but all of them transport you to an unbelievable world: socially dead widows living in Vrindavan, a whole city of widows, government demolition of squatters' camps to build new developments for the blind middle class which apes the worst qualities of the west while ignoring its best just as it ignores the poor in their midst, abused girls trafficked into prostitution and other exploitation such as domestic slavery, aborted girl fetuses, and orphanages where 99% are girls! In taking the pictures and sharing their stories, Sheikh has given the marginalized Indian woman a voice and dignity she has been denied by her own people. I hope that the world takes note and helps Indians change their ways. It is ironic, as the introduction to the exhibition notes, that India is being celebrated on the world economic stage when so many of its "beloved daughters" are denied basic human rights. I too cannot help but wonder with Sheikh, what are the "glorious prospects" for girls in India?

The answer, of course, is Christ but I won't belabor it now. Instead, I will just highly recommend this exhibition. Go see it, take your friends and family to see it too and talk about it. Especially talk about it with all your friends from India. Ask questions. We saw a class of elementary school kids and their teacher having a discussion right there, sitting inside the gallery amidst the photos. Because half the photographs or more are of children and the narratives are so very thoughtfully and skilfully done, they are good for opening conversations with children about rare topics such as privilege, oppression, marginalization, and discrimination.  And, remember to rejoice and be thankful, if you're a woman for all the rights and freedoms that we enjoy. If you cannot go to San Diego, Sheikh has made the exhibitions online: you can visit right now, the Beloved Daughters online exhibition with a lot more pictures and more detailed narratives as well as Moksha, about the widows. The physical exhibition will be in San Diego MOPA until the end of January.

Human rights organizations that Sheikh worked with and mentions include: Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan (which works with homeless people in the Delhi area, with one center for girls/women primarily) and Bal Vikas Dhara (which works for the rights of squatters in the Delhi area).  My friend, Christie who brought this exhibition to my attention and with whom I went to it, visited Pravaham: A Community for Peace and Justice, an organization run by another friend of mine Lucy, that works with marginalized girls in rural South India.  Pravaham provides them with a vocational education. Christie spent a few weeks last summer with the new girls, Class of 2010. Christie is a photographer and she took lots of pictures; you can see them too as they are online now.

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