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Reaching Out With a Flourish of Indian Art
New York Times Art Review

As the exhibition of photographs by Fazal Sheikh being shown concurrently at the Princeton University Art Museum reminds us, while some aspects of Indian society are changing, others are not changing quickly enough.

Mr. Sheikh is presenting two series of recent documentary photos addressing the treatment of women in India. Having grown up in New York and studied photography at Princeton University, he has devoted himself to photographing the poor and dispossessed.

One series, the more compelling one, documents the plight of dispossessed widows in the Indian holy city of Vrindavan, while the other examines the challenges confronting young Indian women, especially the poor. The two series together include about 150 pictures, mostly black-and-white photographs of people. Some of the subjects recall traumatic experiences that are described in text panels.

The plight of the widows of Vrindavan, who migrate there after being cast out or abandoned in a society where Hindu brides marry into their husbands’ families, is profoundly affecting; Mr. Sheikh has alternated the women’s portraits with street scenes giving a sense of context. Mist fills the air, for the photographs were often taken early in the morning as the women made their way to ashrams to pray.

It is difficult to think about people being so callously discarded, yet these pictures are so voyeuristic and intimate that they take your breath away. This is powerful photography. “India: Public Places, Private Spaces — Contemporary Photography and Video Art,” Newark Museum, through Jan. 6. Information: or (973) 596-6550. “Beloved Daughters: Photographs by Fazal Sheikh,” Princeton University Art Museum, through Jan. 6. Information: or (609) 258-3788.