Dr Shela Sheikh
Senior Lecturer in International Politics
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Summary of research interests and expertise
- Post- and Decolonial Cultural Studies
- Globalization, Internationalism and Southern Epistemologies
- Environmental Humanities, Post- and Decolonial Ecologies
- Human and Non-Human Rights, Environmental Justice
- Testimony, Performativity and Theatricality
- Global Arts
My research and teaching – which I view as inherently linked – are highly interdisciplinary, falling within the broader fields of post/decolonial cultural studies, environmental humanities and international politics.
Since my PhD, I have worked consistently on the theme of testimony. From 2013 to 2014, I was Research Associate and Publications Coordinator with the ERC-funded, multi-disciplinary research agency, Forensic Architecture(Opens in new window), who have increasingly investigated environmental violence and ecocide alongside human rights abuses. This prompted me to expand my interest in witnessing and testimony within the arts and humanities to the broader fields of human rights, humanitarianism, geography/spatial politics, legal theory and environmental justice.
Since 2016, in dialogue with co-authors/editors and through numerous workshops and publications, I have contributed to developing the field of ‘postcolonial ecologies’, a subfield of Environmental Humanities and Post/Decolonial Studies. Notable here is the introduction to the special issue of Third Text, ‘The Wretched Earth: Botanical Conflicts and Artistic Interventions’ (2018), which I co-edited with Dr Ros Gray. The special issue brought together environmentalism and postcolonialism through the specific lens of contemporary art practices that explore and intervene in the cultures, politics and systems of representation generated by human interaction with the soil. I have also developed work around the cultural politics, epistemologies and systems of representation of botany, for instance in the international conference co-organised with Professor Matthew Fuller, ‘Cultivation: Vegetal Lives, Global Systems and the Politics of Planting’(Opens in new window) in 2016.
Since 2018, I have lectured internationally and published on ‘more-than-human’ witnessing collectivities, proposing that seminal twentieth-century humanities literature be de-anthropocentrised and placed in conversation with the posthumanities, postcolonialism and critical indigenous studies in order to respond to the legal, political, epistemological and aesthetic challenges of contemporary environmental violence.
I am currently working on a monograph, Staging Environmental Justice. Here the crime of ecocide, as a violation of both human and nonhuman rights, is examined in relation to a variety of forums for testimony. Addressing global people’s tribunals alongside staged trials and hearings, I ask what environmental justice might look like within and beyond the framework of international law and how experimental, speculative forums can enact a decolonial imaginary of environmental justice. I address artistic, theatrical and grassroots activist works from West Africa, India and Europe and recent people’s assemblies, including practices of ‘abolitionist ecologies’ and demands for environmental reparations. Part of this was presented at a performative event I co-convened at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt(Opens in new window) (Berlin) in 2022.
As much as writing and engaging with theory, I thrive on working with practitioners such as artists, performers, architects, lawyers and activists, both in the classroom and beyond. I regularly take part in and organise public lectures, seminars and workshops in cultural spaces globally. Across my research and teaching I am interested in the propositional – rather than simply representational – role of contemporary art and performance practices. As such, I do not approach art works and cultural events as ‘objects of analysis’, but as tools and catalysts through which to re-think key concepts within international politics and to potentially perform politics otherwise.
Born in Kenya and raised in the UK, I have in recent years spent an increasing amount of time moving between the UK and France and am invested in grappling with the echoes and divergences between the postcolonial presents of the two countries, as well as their former colonies.
Research projects & supervisions
I am committed to the practice of editing and publishing, which I understand in the expanded sense of ‘making publics’ and shaping fields of research and debate. I have co-edited numerous publications, which have been accompanied by workshops and public programmes.
Currently I sit on the editorial board, together with Professor Jennifer Gabrys (Cambridge) and Dr Ros Gray (Goldsmiths), of the ‘Planetarities’ series with Goldsmiths Press/MIT Press(Opens in new window). This series of short books investigates the rise of research and practice that attends to earthly and planetary concerns, which are unfolding at a time of multiple environmental crises. Drawing on, extending and reworking Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s notion of ‘planetarity’, the transdisciplinary series – which seeks to advance theoretical, experimental and practice-based work – takes up the distinct types of ‘planet-thought’ and ‘planet-feeling’ that emerge at this moment of planetary distress.
In conjunction with members of the Observatoire Terre-Monde(Opens in new window), which draws attention to the diversity of ecological issues inherent in the French so-called Overseas Territories, I am part of the editorial board of a forthcoming journal (to be launched in September 2023) that seeks to address ecological issues from a pluriversal, decolonial perspective, centring voices from the global south as well as the challenges of translation and access to knowledge. I act as peer-reviewer for journals and publishers such as Theory, Culture & Society, Subjectivity, Third World Quarterly, Geohumanities, Cultural Critique, and Bloomsbury.
From 2017 to 2022, I was Co-Lead of the Goldsmiths Critical Ecologies Research Stream(Opens in new window). Between 2013 and 2014, I was Publications Coordinator and Research Fellow on the ERC-funded Forensic Architecture project based at Goldsmiths, University of London.
I am currently a Board Member of Border Forensics(Opens in new window), an agency that mobilises innovative methods of spatial and visual analysis to investigate practices of border violence, and to foster strategies of border justice. I have served as nominator for the Next Generation Prince Claus Awards(Opens in new window) and as curatorial advisor for the Visible Project Award. I continue to be an Independent Advisor to Forensic Architecture.
I welcome proposals in the research areas as listed above. I currently supervise three PhD students working in the fields of post/decolonial studies, ecology, botany and plant studies, contemporary art, refugee and spatial politics, and critical animal studies. I have co-supervised nine PhD students to completion, of whom three had Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funding. I have examined PhDs at Goldsmiths (University of London), University of Westminster, and Birkbeck (University of London).
BA Spanish and History of Art (University College London); MA Postcolonial Studies (Goldsmiths, University of London); Ph.D. History (Goldsmiths, University of London).
- Co-editor – Sheikh, Shela and Uriel Orlow (eds.). Uriel Orlow: Theatrum Botanicum. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2018
- Co-editor – Forensic Archirecture (ed.; editorial board: Eyal Weizman, Susan Schuppli, Francesco Sebregondi, Shela Sheikh, Anselm Franke and Thomas Keenan), Forensis: The Architecture of Public Truth. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014
- Art and Witnessing: The Poetics and Politics of Testifying to Environmental Violence. In: Art and Knowledge since 1900, ed. James Fox and Vid Simoniti, forthcoming 2023
- Conversing with. In: Uriel Orlow: Conversing with Leaves. Berlin: Archive Books, 2020
- More-than-Human Cosmopolitics. In: Maria Hlavajova and Wietske Maas, eds. Propositions for Non-Fascist Living: Tentative and Urgent. Utrecht and Cambridge, Mass.: BAK and MIT Press, pp. 125-140, 2019
- Co-author - César, Filipa; Ros Gray; Raphaël Grisey; Shela Sheikh; Bouba Touré; Nicole Wolf. Fugitive Remains: Soil, Celluloid and Resistant Collectivities. In: Cooking Sections, ed., The Empire Remains Shop. New York: Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, 2018
- Violence. In: The Posthuman Glossary, ed. Rosi Braidotti and Maria Hlavajova. London: Bloomsbury, 2017
- Translating Geontologies. In: James Graham, ed. And Now: Architecture Against a Developer Presidency: Essays on the Occasion of Trump's Inauguration. New York: Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, pp. 165-184, 2017, available online at https://averyreview.com/issues/21/translating-geontologies(Opens in new window)
- Forensic Theater: Grupa Spomenik’s Pythagorean Lecture––Mathemes of Re-association. In: Forensic Architecture, ed. Forensis: The Architecture of Public Truth. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014
- Responding: Bartleby–Derrida. Literature, Law and Responsibility. In: Efterpi Mitsi; Christina Dokou and Stamatina Dimakopoulou, eds. The Letter of the Law: Literature, Justice and the Other. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, pp. 215-234, 2013
Academic special issues:
- Co-editor and Co-author – Gray, Ros and Shela Sheikh (eds.). The Wretched Earth: Botanical Conflicts and Artistic Interventions. Special issue of Third Text 32 (2), 2018
- Co-author – Marboeuf, Olivier; Shela Sheikh. Speculative Justice as Decolonial Intervention: The Aesthetics and Politics of the Bureau des Dépositions. estetica: studi e ricerche, no. 1, 2021
- After Capital: Towards Alternative Worlds. Subjectivity, vol. 13, issue 1. pp. 148–51, 2020
- The Future of the Witness: Nature, Race and More-than-Human Environmental Publics. Kronos: Southern African Histories, vol. 44, no. 1, pp. 145–162, 2018
- ‘Planting Seeds/The Fires of War’: The Geopolitics of Seed Saving in Jumana Manna’s Wild Relatives. Third Text 151, vol. 32, no. 2, 2018
- Co-author – Gray, Ros and Sheikh, Shela. The coloniality of planting: legacies of racism and slavery in the practice of botany. The Architectural Review (1478), 2021, https://www.architectural-review.com/essays/the-coloniality-of-planting(Opens in new window)
- Annotated Bibliography: On Artistic Practices in the Expanded Field of Public Art. In: Judith Wielander and Matteo Lucchetti, eds. Collectively Annotated bibliography: On Artistic Practices in the Expanded Field of Public Art. Visible; Public Art Agency, 2021
- Independence/Nakba. Ideas and Futures, 2020, https://ideasandfutures.com/2020/08/08/art-literary/independence-nakba-shela-sheikh/(Opens in new window)
- The Madness of the Mother Tongue. The Contemporary Journal, vol. 1, 2020, https://thecontemporaryjournal.org/strands/on-translations/the-madness-of-the-mother-tongue(Opens in new window)
- Corinne Silva: Plants, Power and the Israeli State. Financial Times, FT Weekend Magazine, pp. 16-21, 2019
- The Erasure Trilogy: Fazal Sheikh interviewed by Shela Sheikh, Slought, 2016, https://slought.org/media/files/s534-2016-03-22-erasures_interview.pdf
- Nkanga, Otobong; Felwine Sarr; Shela Sheikh. 2020. Ecologies of knowledges, Economies of the living. Part of Iko podcast series, https://www.ikoflow.com/episode-4-1(Opens in new window) (part 1) and https://www.ikoflow.com/episode-4-2(Opens in new window) (part 2)
- Gray, Ros; Shela Sheikh. 2020. The Coloniality of Planting. Part of podcast series accompanying ‘The Botanical Mind: Art, Mysticism and the Cosmic Tree’, Camden Arts Centre, https://www.botanicalmind.online/podcasts/the-coloniality-of-planting(Opens in new window)
- Sheikh, Shela and Zuleikha Chaudhari. With Shweta Bhattad, Başak Ertür, Emilie Gaillard and Radha D’Souza. 2022. Performing Environmental Justice: Staged Reflections. Part of: ‘The Whole Life. Archives and Imaginaries,’ Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany, 26 March 2022, https://hkw.de/en/app/mediathek/video/91235