"Fearless" Exhibition Documents the Experience of Gay Athletes

by Nehmat Kaur '16
Fearless exhibit
Jeff Sheng's "Fearless" photo exhibit on display in the Lamb-Miller Field House.

Those who walked through the lobby of the Lamb-Miller Field House last fall were greeted with photographs of high school and college athletes from across the country, posing in the uniforms of the teams they represent. The portraits are part of "Fearless," a photo exhibition by artist Jeff Sheng, which documents openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender athletes. Sheng, who was inspired by his own experience of being a closeted high school athlete, also delivered a lecture on campus.

Rose Pitkin '14 and Emma Madarasz '15, along with help from Nnenna Akotaobi, Associate Director of Athletics, worked on the Sager Grant that brought Sheng and his work to Swarthmore. Pitkin first came across Sheng's work when he photographed some of her friends for "Fearless." Then she met more people involved with the project through her work with the national non-profit, GO! Athletes

"His work focuses on the intersection of athletes and the LGBT community," says Pitkin, a softball player and a neuroscience major from West Springfield, Mass. "Oftentimes you have both identities, but it is hard for both to exist at the same time. In many ways the athletic environment can be heteronormative and homophobic, especially gay men who are considered 'not athletes.' Jeff's work breaks down such stereotypes and makes you ask 'why' when you step into the Field House and see all these pictures of athletes from other schools."

Since 2003, Sheng has spoken out against homophobia at numerous high schools and colleges as part of the "Fearless" project. His work has received attention from the media as well, including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, CNN, NPR, the BBC, and ABC World News Tonight.