Moksha: Photography by Fazal Sheikh

Salt Lake City – Moksha: Photography by Fazal Sheik, an exhibition of black-and-white photographs that tell the visual story of a community of outcast widows taking refuge in an Indian holy city, opens July 11 at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA).

Fazal Sheikh, Bhajan Ashram at Dawn, Vrindavan, India, 2003. © Fazal Sheikh; courtesy of Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

Fazal Sheikh, Bhajan Ashram at Dawn, Vrindavan, India, 2003.
© Fazal Sheikh; courtesy of Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

Shot by award-winning artist-activist Fazal Sheik, these photographs and the stories that accompany them explore the lives of the widows of Vrindavan. Widows, a marginalized segment of Hindu society since ancient times, are often dispossessed of home and family, and many find sanctuary at Vrindavan, a city holy to the Hindu god Krishna. Here, the women chant and pray every day to Krishna in the hopes of obtaining moksha, release from the constant cycle of death and rebirth in which Hindus believe.
UMFA curator Luke Kelly says Sheikh takes a unique, and important, approach to the difficult cultural issue of widows in Hindu society.

“Documentaries and articles on the widows of Vrindavan often generalize the challenges and problems of these widows, but Fazal Sheikh’s portraits personalize the issue and challenge viewers far more than facts and figures ever could,” Kelly says. “His portraits do not depict the women as vulnerable or unfortunate but instead portray them as having gained inner strength through their devotion to Krishna and a new family among their fellow widows.”

The exhibition is on loan from Princeton University Art Museum. Sheikh, a Princeton graduate, has won numerous awards for his photography, including the Henri Cartier-Bresson International Grand Prize and a MacArthur Fellowship. His work brings attention to marginalized peoples and groups around the world.

On August 8, Krishna: Lord of Vrindavan, a companion exhibition that explores the spiritual themes at work in the Moksha photographs, will go on view. Krishna, drawn from the UMFA’s Asian art collection, examines the concepts of bhakti (devotion) and moksha (salvation) through sacred and secular artworks dating from the 11th century to the 20th. Both exhibitions will be on view through November 30, 2014.

For more information call (801) 581-7332 or visit www.umfa.utah.edu

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