Shela Sheikh has convened the MA Postcolonial Culture and Global Policy since 2014 (formerly in the Centre for Cultural Studies; since 2017 in the Department of Media, Communications and Cultural Studies). Her work is mainly concerned with decolonial and postcolonial approaches to environmental justice, in particular as this concerns cultural forms, as well as diverse practices of witnessing and testimony. Shela currently co-leads the Goldsmiths Critical Ecologies research stream, with Dr. Wood Roberdeau. Prior to joining the Centre for Cultural Studies, Shela was Research Fellow and Publications Coordinator on the ERC-funded “Forensic Architecture” project based in the Centre for Research Architecture, and Associate Lecturer in the Department of Visual Cultures, both Goldsmiths.
- 2013. PhD History, Goldsmiths, University of London
- 2006. MA Postcolonial Studies, Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London
- 2004. BA Spanish & History of Art, University College London
Shela convenes the MA Postcolonial Culture and Global Policy and the programme’s two core modules: Postcolonial Theory (Autumn Term), and Globalization: Policy, Politics, Critique (Spring Term).
Area of supervision
Shela supervises a number of PhD students working broadly in the fields of postcolonial and decolonial studies, environmental humanities, globalization, activism, conflict, art/research, visual cultures and cultural memory. She has examined PhD projects both in the UK and internationally.
Besides research and teaching, Shela has worked in publishing since 2005. She was Managing Editor and member of the editorial board of Forensic Architecture, ed., Forensis: The Architecture of Public Truth (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014), and was editor for Fazal Sheikh’s Erasure Trilogy (Göttingen: Steidl, 2015). She is also a peer reviewer for several academic journals, including Theory, Culture & Society. Together with Dr. Ros Gray and Professor Jennifer Gabrys, she is series editor of the “Planetarities” series of short monographs with Goldsmiths Press.
Other professional roles:
Chair, Dept. of Media, Communications and Cultural Studies Anti-Racist Committee
Joint GUCU (Goldsmiths University and College Union) Environmental rep, with Dr. Ros Gray
Member of Goldsmiths Environmental Enhancement working group (part of the Goldsmiths Green New Deal)
Independent Advisor, Forensic Architecture
Curatorial Advisory Board member, Visible Award, 2019
Nominator, 2020 Next Generation Prince Claus Awards
Member, Law and the Human Network, University of Kent
Co-director, International Symposium in Phenomenology, Perugia, Italy, 2018–2020
My research is interdisciplinary, taking a post/decolonial approach to environmental humanities, visual cultures, and contemporary art and activism.
Central to my research are concepts and practices of witnessing, whether this be in the context of performative acts of political and ethical resistance (as explored in my doctoral thesis about the phenomenon of the “martyr video-testimony” and its cultural representation, read primarily through the lens of deconstruction); in the cultural politics of forensic anthropology, the “biographies” of bones in post-conflict milieus and performative public interventions into the politics of memory (developed within the context of my former position within the ERC-funded “Forensic Architecture” project); in the role of visual cultures as evidentiary media and tools for activism; or in the exploration of plants and landscapes as “silent witnesses” to (historical and ongoing) colonial violence.
Increasingly, this focus on witnessing has been supplemented with a consideration of alternative assemblies or forums, be these through activist, artistic, filmmaking and/or ecological practices. In recent writing, this has focused on the notion of “more-than-human” witnessing collectivities and cosmopolitics in the face of environmental violence and the forms through which truth claims, political agency and alternative world-building practices might be articulated.
My research strands take various output forms, including a monograph (in progress), journal articles and reviews, book chapters, presentations within both academic and public contexts internationally, the organisation of workshops and conferences, and editorial projects.
In past years, various collaborative projects have been significant for the fields of post- and decolonial ecologies in their foregrounding of the entanglement of historical and ongoing forms of colonialism with environmentalism, botanical classification, extractivism/extractive capitalism, law, representation and spatial politics:
- a major conference, “Cultivation: Vegetal Lives, Global Systems and the Politics of Planting” (March 2016), co-organised with Professor Matthew Fuller, which explored the cultural politics of botany and planting from a philosophical, legal and post/decolonial perspective;
- a special issue of Third Text (Critical Perspectives on Contemporary Art and Culture), “The Wretched Earth: Botanical Conflicts and Artistic Interventions” (vol. 32, nos. 2–3, 2018), co-edited with Dr. Ros Gray, which presents new research on, and generated through, contemporary art practices that explore and intervene in the politics of soil. Here Frantz Fanon’s seminal writings on “the wretched of the earth” are revisited in light of the earth itself as wretched, as well as the destruction of “ecological” relations with the earth;
- Theatrum Botanicum, co-edited with artist Uriel Orlow (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2018), which addresses colonialism and the politics of planting through several perspectives including postcolonial cultural studies; art criticism and art history; natural history, botany (including ethnobotany and economic botany) and conservation; jurisprudence and critical legal studies; and critical race studies.
A monograph, provisionally entitled The Future of the Witness: Decoloniality, More-than-human Testimony and Environmental Justice, is in progress. Further to this, I am currently developing various collaborative projects that explore the conjunction between racial justice, environmental justice and migrant justice, in particular though institutional practices of memory-making and the politics of public space. I am also increasingly interested in the role of artistic, performative practices for providing propositions regarding law and justice.
Publications and research outputs
Gray, Ros and Sheikh, Shela, eds. 2018. The Wretched Earth: Botanical Conflicts and Artistic Interventions, Third Text, 32(2-3). 0952-8822
Sheikh, Shela. 2021. 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. ISBN 9789151977188
Sheikh, Shela. 2019. 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. ISBN 9780262537896
Sheikh, Shela; Gray, Ros; Wolf, Nicole; César, Filipa; Grisey, Raphaël and Touré, Bouba. 2018. Fugitive Remains: Soil, Celluloid and Resistant Collectivities. In: Cooking Sections, ed. The Empire Remains Shop. New York: Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, pp. 209-223. ISBN 978-1-941332-37-5
Sheikh, Shela. 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. ISBN 978-1-941332-31-3
Sheikh, Shela. 2014. ‘Forensic Theater: Grupa Spomenik’s Pythagorean Lecture––Mathemes of Re-association’. In: , ed. Forensis: The Architecture of Public Truth. Berlin: Sternberg Press. ISBN 978-3956790119
Sheikh, Shela. 2013. ‘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. ISBN 978-3631634332
Sheikh, Shela and Marboeuf, Olivier. 2021. Speculative Justice as Decolonial Intervention. The Aesthetics and Politics of the Bureau des Dépositions. estetica. studi e ricerche, 11(1/2021), pp. 63-112. ISSN 2039-6635
Gray, Ros and Sheikh, Shela. 2021. The coloniality of planting: legacies of racism and slavery in the practice of botany. The Architectural Review(1478), ISSN 0003-861X
Sheikh, Shela. 2019. Corinne Silva: plants, power and the Israeli state. FT Weekend Magazine, pp. 16-21. ISSN 0307-1766
Sheikh, Shela. 2018. The Future of the Witness: Nature, Race and More-than-Human Environmental Publics. Kronos: Southern African Histories, 44(1), pp. 145-162. ISSN 0259-0190
Sheikh, Shela and Gray, Ros. 2018. La terre damnée: conflits botaniques et interventions artistiques. Le journal des laboratoires (Cahier C), pp. 3-6.
Gray, Ros and Sheikh, Shela. 2018. Editor's Introduction: The Wretched Earth: Botanical Conflicts and Artistic Interventions. Third Text, 32(2-3), pp. 163-175. ISSN 0952-8822
Sheikh, Shela. 2018. “Planting Seeds/The Fires of War”: The Geopolitics of Seed Saving in Jumana Manna’s Wild Relatives. Third Text, 32(2-3), pp. 220-229. ISSN 0952-8822
Sheikh, Shela and Sheikh, Fazal. 2016. The Erasure Trilogy: Fazal Sheikh interviewed by Shela Sheikh. Slought,
Conference or Workshop Item
Sheikh, Shela. 2016. 'Introduction: Monocultures of Knowledge'. In: ‘Under the Tree: Taxonomy, Empire and Reclaiming the Commons’, part of Qalandiya International. Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre, Ramallah, Palestinian Territory, Occupied.
Sheikh, Shela. 2016. 'Introduction'. In: ‘Fugitive Remains: Soil, Celluloid and Resistant Collectivities’, with Nicole Wolf, Ros Gray, Filipa César, Raphaël Grisey, Bouba Touré. The Empire Remains Shop, London, United Kingdom.
Sheikh, Shela. 2016. 'Returning to the Wretched Earth: Fanon and Postcolonial Ecologies'. In: ‘Sites of Return: On Re-growth, Restlessness and Reconstruction’ panel, part of Qalandiya Encounters. Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre, Ramallah, Palestinian Territory, Occupied.
Sheikh, Shela. 2016. '"Biocolonialism and the Paradoxes of Access to Knowledge:'. In: “Indigeneity and the Promise of Inclusion”. Westminster Forum, United Kingdom.
Sheikh, Shela. 2015. '“‘Take This Instant’: Sacrifice, Testimony, and the Gift of my Death”'. In: Institute for Modern and Contemporary Culture Forum. Institute for Modern and Contemporary Culture, Westminster University, United Kingdom.
Sheikh, Shela. 2015. '“Performing the Politics of Memory: Grupa Spomenik, the Bosnian Genocide and the Articulation of Justice”'. In: Possibility Matters. Institute for Cultural Inquiry (ICI), Berlin, Germany.
Sheikh, Shela. 2015. '“Fanon, Prevent, and That which we Cannot Not Want”'. In: Fanon and Philosophy workshop. Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University, United Kingdom.
Sheikh, Shela. 2015. 'Introduction, "Photography, Colonialism and the Politics of Planting"'. In: "Photography, Colonialism and the Politics of Planting". The Mosaic Rooms, London, United Kingdom.
Sheikh, Shela. 2011. '‘Politics of Fiction and Post Civil-war Memory Culture in Lebanon’'. In: INIVA (Institute of International Visual Arts). London, United Kingdom.
Sheikh, Shela and Chaudhari, Zuleikha. 2022. Performing Environmental Justice. Staged Reflections. In: "The Whole Life. Archives & Imaginaries", Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany, 26 March 2022.
Sheikh, Shela. 2013. ‘I am the martyr (x)’ philosophical reflections of testimony and martyrdom. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London