kicks off 2023 with a comprehensive exhibition of works by the Indian photographer Gauri Gill (b. 1970). The exhibition is the first major survey of the artists work and features more than 200 works from her most significant series.
From her base in New Delhi, Gauri Gill has made an impact on the international art scene, not least at documenta in 2017 and the Venice Biennale in 2019, with an original body of work characterized by a mix of several photographic genres from classical documentary to staged performances for the camera and numerous works created in collaboration with others.
Over the last two decades, Gauri Gill has especially captured the lives of marginalized rural communities outside Indias urban centres. Several topics interweave in the works and across the series: identity, gender and class hierarchies in Indian society, migration and cultural affiliation, climate change and the imbalance between centre and periphery, and between capitalism and cultural roots.
Gauri Gill places the overlooked and the excluded at the centre of her works and thus in our field of vision. Giving visibility to girls and women, especially those from rural regions dominated by patriarchal power structures, is a driving force in much of her work. The same goes for her exploration of new collective visions in an effort to foreground diverse voices. Portraiture and close relations with the people and places portrayed are the hallmarks of Gills work communicating with poetic beauty, empathy, humour and political engagement.
Selected series in the exhibition
The exhibition opens with the series Acts of Appearance (2015-ongoing). Here we see ordinary scenes from everyday life, however, all the characters wear masks. The masks show human faces of different ages and in different emotional states, as well as animals, insects and objects that are an integral part of the daily village life. The series is based on a close cooperation between Gauri Gill and artists from the Indigenous Adivasi communities of the Kokna and Warli tribes in the Maharashtra state, specialized in producing ritualistic masks and figures in papier-mâché. The masked characters in Gills images appear with confidence and an utmost self-assurance as extra exotic beings in a humorous confrontation of the clichés and the widespread stereotypical expectations towards representations of Indigenous communities.
Since 1999, Gauri Gill has been travelling and working throughout the Thar Desert, located in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan. The series Notes from the Desert (1999-ongoing) is an open archive consisting of thousands of images shot over two decades, capturing the lives of marginalized rural communities in this environment characterized by extremes. Notes from the Desert has given rise to several of the individual series presented in this exhibition, all resulting from Gill's work method, based on personal encounters and mutual trust.
Working with children and teens is central to Gills practice. The series Balika Mela (2003 and 2010) consists of portraits taken in a tent studio in a workshop initiated by Gill during her participation in a festival for girls and women organized by an activist organization in the desert city of Lunkaransar. Those who entered the collaborative space took part in determining the conditions of their representation and deciding themselves how they wish to be portrayed. In the workshops that followed, the participants learned how to use cameras, going on to make their own images, with one student even going on to run a photo studio in her village.
The exhibition also features new works in the ongoing collaborative series of works, Fields of Sight (2013-ongoing). Two ways of seeing join forces in these portraits of places. Right on top of Gills photographs, the artist Rajesh Vangad, belonging to the Indigenous Warli community, paints his personal associations with the photographed places and landscapes in which he lives. In his update of the traditional Warli imagery, we find depictions of roads and factories. Loss of livelihoods, environmental destruction and the displacement of people who are driven out of their ancestral habitats are central themes in these multi perspectival works.
Besides her various projects in rural India, Gill has explored the Indian diaspora across the United States in the series The Americans (20022007). Alluding to the American photographer Robert Frank's (1924-2019) iconic photo book The Americans (1958), that explores Americanness on the fringes of society, Gill takes a transcultural position, showing the intertwining of cultures and questioning who precisely is American in a span from store shelves full of Bollywood movies to champagne receptions in Silicon Valley.
Several other of the artists series are included in the exhibition as are a selection of works by some of Gills artistic partners and people who have been of significance to her work.
Gauri Gill was born in Chandigarh in 1970. She lives in New Delhi. She studied applied arts at the Delhi College of Art, New Delhi, and photography at the Parsons School of Design, New York, before acquiring her MFA in art from Stanford University in California. Her works have been presented in India and at important international exhibitions, including the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019, documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel, 2017, and the 2016 Kochi-Muziris Bienniale. Her most recent solo shows have been at the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio; MoMA PS1, New York; the Museum Tinguely in Basel; and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.