A photographer creating work that is politically and socially aware, Gauri Gill was born in Chandigarh, India and initially worked as a photojournalist. She has a double BFA: in Applied Arts from College of Art, New Delhi and in photography from the Parsons School of Design, New York. She also has an MFA from Stanford University, California. Apart from structural deficiencies of health care, education and ecology, her photos also focus on the resilience of the nomadic Jogi community, amongst others, and in her work, Gill has tried to remain faithful to their lived experiences. Her work has been noted for attempting to be aware of her place as an outsider and she has sought to build partnerships with the people she photographs.
Her work Notes from the Desert began in 1999 and culminated in 40,000 photos, created over ten years. In this series, there is a conscious awareness to avoid recreating the aesthetics of colonial-era photography and dehumanising ethnographic images. Instead, Gill's photographs create the impression of an outsider allowed into the lives of the people she was documenting. The people she photographs appear comfortable with letting her in on the events in their lives — a grave of a loved one, an ailing relative, lapsed state government educational schemes evidenced by old diagrams on schoolroom walls — revealing intimacy and familiarity. A selection of 63, from this series, was exhibited in a solo exhibition at Nature Morte, New Delhi in 2010. A sub-series of this project was Balika Mela. In 2003 Urmul Setu Sansthan, a non-profit, organised a fair for girls and young women at Lunkaransar, Rajasthan. Gill, invited by the organisation, set up a portrait photo studio in a tent. The photographs were a collaborative effort between her and the girls as they could choose how they wished to be represented. The aim was to create a small, playful space of agency. Gill repeated these efforts when she returned to the mela in 2010. The series was displayed at Nature Morte in 2012 and a book carrying 72 black and white plates and 32 in colour was published by Edition Patrick Frey, Zurich and launched alongside the exhibition.
In 2014, Gill collaborated with two acclaimed Adivasi artists, Subhas and Bhagvan Dharma Kadu in Maharashtra for her series Acts of Appearance. The brothers are known for making paper-mache masks for the Bohada procession in which members of their community participate by wearing masks representing gods and demons. For her series, the brothers created masks of animals, people and precious objects that were indicative of various human experiences and emotions and actor-collaborators from the village went about their daily life wearing the masks while being photographed by Gill.
Fields of Sight (2014) was a collaboration with Warli artist Rajesh Vangad from Ganjad, Maharashtra, where he drew over Gill’s black and white photographs. The series intended to tell the story of ecological collapse, centring the politics of land and its ownership as told by Adivasis. This collaboration came from the realisation that her photographs of the Ganjad landscape were inadequate as they could not highlight the rights and claims of indigenous people or local mythologies that are repeatedly undermined by large-scale development projects undertaken by the government and private bodies.
Gill is also known for her series The Americans (2000) where she documented the life of Indian Americans in everyday settings provoking speculations as to what migration can mean to the diaspora beyond the notion of “The American Dream”.
Some of Gill’s solo exhibitions include The Mark on the Wall, Galerie Mirchandani and Steinruecke, Mumbai; Traces, Museum Tinguely, Basel; and What Remains, Green Cardamom Gallery, London. She has also shown at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, documenta 14, Venice Biennale, MoMA PS1 amongst other international venues. In 2011 she received the Grange Prize, Canada’s highest photography award.
At the time of writing, Gill lives and works in New Delhi.
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