Akhtar Soomro: Sheedi Community in Karachi, Pakistan

Akhtar Soomro, recipient of a Documentary Photography Project Production Grant, documented the Afro-Pakistani Sheedi community in Lyari Town in Karachi, Pakistan. The Sheedis are believed to be descendants of sailors, merchants, servants, and slaves who arrived from East Africa between the years 1200-1900.

While the Sheedi often face discrimination and a lack of economic opportunities, and Lyari suffers from government neglect and increased violence due to gang and drug activity, Soomro chose to highlight the unique aspects of Sheedi culture that are derived from their African roots. Soomro photographed and recorded sound at festivals, weddings, and other events, capturing the Sheedi’s distinctive instruments, music, dance, dress, and cultural rituals.

He also photographed Sheedi boxers and soccer players, who are known throughout Pakistan for being the best in the country. Soomro views this work as part of a larger, ongoing documentation of the Sheedis, and his long-term goal is to photograph them in other parts of Pakistan, as well as in other countries.