Fazal Sheikh: Ether
September 7–October 20, 2012
32 East 57th Street, 9th Floor, New York, NY
NEW YORK, August 21, 2012 – Pace/MacGill Gallery is pleased to present Fazal Sheikh: Ether. The exhibition marks Sheikh’s first solo show at the gallery since 2007 and the debut of his most recent body of work.
Ether (2008–2011) is the third project in a trilogy on India that includes Moksha (2005) and Ladli (2007). Ether is Sheikh's first foray into color photography and will be the subject of a forthcoming monograph from Steidl (Spring 2013). The exhibition will be on view September 7 through October 20, 2012, with an opening reception for the artist on Thursday, September 6 from 5:30 to 7:30 pm.
Fazal Sheikh: Ether features over 40 pigment prints of images taken in the sacred city of Varanasi (commonly known as Banaras or Banares), a cultural and religious center situated on the banks of the River Ganges in northern India. A place of pilgrimage for many faiths, Varanasi is considered an auspicious site by Hindus, who believe that dying on the Ganges provides assurance of heavenly bliss and emancipation from the eternal cycle of reincarnation. Upon leaving the body, the soul is then thought to devolve into the five elements of earth, fire, water, air, and ether.
Sheikh’s color photographs seek to visualize the spiritual concept of “ether” in their exploration of sleep, dream, death, and birth. In the depths of night, Sheikh quietly leads viewers through the dormant town of Varanasi, observing its slumbering inhabitants, capturing the first moments of infants’ lives in the maternity wards, and memorializing those individuals who have passed at the river’s cremation ghats. Throughout this visit, his subjects remain undisturbed within the calm, protective embrace of their own minds and bodies. As Sheikh’s camera, and by extension the viewer, cannot penetrate their thoughts or feelings, we are left to contemplate the essence of the dreamlike states to which they have retreated.
While Sheikh’s previous projects in India revealed human rights violations and social injustice, Ether is decidedly without a political agenda. And unlike Ladli and Moksha, the portraits in this body of work are presented anonymously and without commentary. Collectively, the images are a rumination on the cycles of life – highlighted by Sheikh’s pairings of those who have entered and left the world on the same day – and the universal yet illusive experience of dreams.
Fazal Sheikh (b. 1965, New York City) received a BA from Princeton University in 1987. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship in the Arts (1992); a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Photography (1994); the Leica Medal of Excellence (1995); the Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography (1995); a Volkart Foundation Grant (2000); the Prix d’Arles (2003); the Henri Cartier-Bresson International Grand Prize (2005); and the Lucie Award (2009). Sheikh was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2005 and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow in 2012.
Since the early 1990s, Sheikh’s work has been the subject of international exhibitions at venues as diverse as Swiss churches and the United Nations. His photographs are held in public and private collections worldwide, including the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Fotomuseum Winterthur, Zurich; the International Center of Photography, New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum Folkwang, Essen; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Sprengel Museum, Hannover.
Monographs of Sheikh's work include: A Sense of Common Ground (Scalo, 1996); The Victor Weeps (Scalo, 1998); A Camel for the Son (IHRS, 2001); Ramadan Moon (IHRS, 2001); Moksha (IHRS and Steidl, 2005); Un Chameau Pour Le Fils (Photo Poche Societé, Actes Sud, 2005); Ladli (Steidl, 2007); The Circle (Steidl, 2008); Fazal Sheikh (Fundación MAPFRE, 2009); and Portraits (Steidl, 2011). Thousands of Sheikh's books and multimedia publications have been distributed electronically and free of charge to promote awareness of international human rights issues.
Sheikh lives and works in Zurich, New York City, and Kenya.
One of the world's leading photography galleries, Pace/MacGill has been dedicated to advancing fine art photography for almost 30 years. Known for discovering artists, representing masters, and placing important collections and archives into major public institutions, Pace/MacGill has presented some 200 exhibitions and published numerous catalogues on modern and contemporary photography. Founded in 1983 by Peter MacGill, in collaboration with Arne Glimcher of The Pace Gallery and Richard Solomon of Pace Editions, Pace/MacGill is located at 32 East 57th Street in New York City.