Ismat,Barmer.

Ismat, Barmer
Silver gelatin print. 24 by 30 inches.

‘Notes from the Desert’ (1999 - 2010)

This extensive series is drawn from more than ten years of Gill visiting her friends among rural communities in Western Rajasthan, including Jogi nomads, Muslim migrants and Bishnoi peasants. The set of pictures is also structured around performance and portraits; some spontaneous, many posed in collaboration with their subjects. It includes the Balika Mela Portraits at one end of the spectrum - posed pictures made in a tent in Lunkaransar town; unplanned and spontaneous portraits at the other end; and finally those photographs that were staged in people’s real life environments, and so combined both practices. The work references vernacular and popular practices of photography and image making often found in and around the village - including the studio portrait, passport photo, religious calendar art and Bollywood posters.

 

The exhibition in Delhi also included a dimly lit room with the Birth Series; and a wall in the main area displaying the Ruined Rainbow Pictures, the only color works in the entire show.

 

“To set up a photographic project in rural Rajasthan, in black and white, stretching over a decade, goes against the grain of several stereotypes; and signals the maturing of a ‘voice’ within the corpus of Photography in India. Defrocked of its color and tourism potential, Rajasthan, is scoured at the nomadic margins; revealing lives in transition: epic cycles of birth, death, drought, flood, celebration and devastation, through which they pass. The extremity of the situation requires no illustration or pictorialism- those vexed twins of the colonial legacy- especially from an insider, or the one who is led by the hand. Her subjects take her into their world, and she goes there like Alice. Her method embraces ‘Time’- which does not ‘naturally’ exist inside a photograph, beyond the epiphany and commemoration of a moment (photography’s melancholy and limitation is precisely this)- within a structure of intimacy and relationships that unravel their mysteries slowly.”

 

From Anita Dube’s notes on the show in Delhi, published in Art India and Du magazine 2010.

 

PDF of full text

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Installation views, Nature Morte Gallery, New Delhi 2010 Install Install Install Install Install Install Install Install Install Install Install

 

Balika Mela Portrait 11

Sunita, Sita and Nirmala

Archival pigment print. 28 by 42 inches.

'Balika Mela' (2003/2010)

In 2003 the non profit organization Urmul Setu Sansthan organised a Balika Mela - or fair for girls, in Lunkaransar town, attended by almost fifteen hundred adolescent girls from seventy surrounding villages. The Mela had various stalls, food, performances, a Ferris wheel, magicians, puppet shows, games and competitions, similar to any other small town fair. Urmul Setu invited the photographer to do something.

 

“I created a photo-stall for anyone to come in and have their portrait taken, and later buy the silver gelatin print at a subsidised rate if they wished. I had a few basic props and backdrops, whatever we could get from the local town studio and cloth shop on a very limited budget, but it was fairly minimal, and since it can get windy out in the desert everything would keep getting blown around, or periodically struck down. The light was the broad, even light of a desert sky, filtered through the cloth roof of our tent. Many of the more striking props - like the peacock and the paper hats - were brought in by the girls themselves. Girls came in, and decided how and with whom they would like to be photographed – best friends, new friends, sisters, the odd younger brother who had tagged along, girls with their teachers, the whole class, the local girl scouts. Some of those who posed for the pictures went on to learn photography in the workshops that we started in May of that year, and two years later they photographed the fair themselves.”

 

Gauri Gill, 2009


In 2010, Gill returned to attend a Balika Mela held after a gap of seven years, with an exhibition in a tent. Many of the girls portrayed in the pictures from 2003 were either at the fair or known to those who attended. She ended up making more portraits, this time in color.

 

"Gill’s photo document Balika Mela (2003-10) embodies India’s staggered engagement with modernity. What began with Ram Singh’s foto ka karkhana in the 1850s comes to Lunkaransar, 300 km from Jaipur, over 150 years later. For the young girls posing in the makeshift tent studio set up by Gill, the moment of improvisation becomes a performative gestalt. The girls perform gender, cross gender, divines, Bollywood, and just themselves, with an interested gaze at the camera. Technology enables mimicry that traverses class. The 19th century grand studio portrait of heavy velvet drapes and aristocratic subjects is here imitated with a stubborn confidence that exceeds the poverty of materials. Gill as a (woman) photographer lends agency, the freedom to perform, the return of the gaze, the playful mis-en-scene, not unlike the freedom for self representation afforded by the woman photographer in zenana studies, a hundred years ago."

 

From Gayatri Sinha's note on Balika Mela 2012

 

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Images 2010 – Excerpt img img img img img img img img img img img img img img img

Installation views, Balika Mela, Lunkaransar 2010 img img img

Installation views, Matthieu Foss Gallery, Mumbai 2010 img img img img img img img img img img img

Installation views, Nature Morte Gallery, New Delhi 2012 img img img img img img img img img img img img img img imgimgimgimgimg

 

 

Birth series 7.

Birth series 7

Silver gelatin print. 16 by 20 inches.

‘Birth Series’ (2005, first shown in 2010)

The set of photographs was made when Gill lived for twelve days with a great midwife in a remote village in Motasar, Barmer. Kasumbi Dai had invited her to photograph her at work - in this case deliver her own granddaughter. The photographer ending up helping with the birth. Kasumbi Dai died in 2010.

 

“One room in the gallery contains a series of small photographs in which the elderly midwife Kasumbi is delivering her granddaughter on the sandy floor of their desert hut. The veiled mother-to-be, arms clad to the shoulders in ivory bangles, strains and pushes. The midwife helps by pressing the soles of her feet against the laboring woman’s and grasps her hands to create resistance. We see the infant’s emerging head and the outstretched hands guiding it into the world, and then the newborn gasping its first breaths in the sand.


The great dramas of life and death, love and longing, growth and change, captured in these images are presented with the same matter-of-factness that accompanies these great life passages is this place — with unadorned humanity rather than maudlin sentimentality.”


Maya Kovskaya in Artinfo, 2010

 

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Ruined Rainbows Picture 4

Ruined Rainbow Picture 4

C – Print. 16 by 20 inches.

‘Ruined Rainbow Pictures’ (First shown in 2010)

The series was edited by the photographer from rolls of film taken by children photographing in the same dhanis or villages as her, and discarded by them because they were ‘ruined’. When later displayed in a row of C – prints in the gallery, they looked uncannily like a rainbow. They are also another version of the places photographed by Gill in the very same show – Notes from the Desert; serving both to disrupt her narrative, and also to point to how each representation of a place is highly subjective, only a realistic fiction.

 

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Clothes made by women in sewing classes at Khalsa Diwan,Tilak Nagar,<br>New Delhi 2008.

Typing classes at Khalsa Diwan. Tilak Nagar, New Delhi, 2011

C - Print. 16 x 20 inches.

'What Remains' (2007 - 2011)

img img img img img img img img img img img 'What Remains’ looks at the displacement of the Afghani Sikh and Hindu community from Kabul to Delhi, over successive waves of migration, to question notions of identity, home and belonging.

 

The collaborative photo and text-based installation includes Gill’s own photographs, taken in Kabul and Delhi; photographs taken by members of the Indo-Afghani community on their visits back to Afghanistan - overlaid by text taken from her interviews with individuals; and texts by some of the children within the community, drawn from writing workshops she conducted at the Khalsa Diwan Afghan Hindu-Sikh Refugee association school in Tilak Nagar.

 

“What do we take, what do we leave behind, who we were there and who we become here, and through it all what remains...what continues to live in and around us, or in our children. I am interested in the act of making such physical journeys, both by individuals and communities." - Gill

 

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Installation views, Green Cardamom Gallery, London 2011 InstallInstallInstallInstallInstallInstallInstallInstallInstall

 

Kundan Singh. Yuba City, 2001.

Alok and Sumati Patel-Parekh.  Silicon Valley, California 2001

Archival pigment print. 27 x 40 inches

 

The Future Infinitives

 

All over those bland, continuous
states, in ghettos amalgamated beyond
Sikh, Muslim, Hindu to one easy race-
name, South Asian, one umbrella brand,
Indian-American, in basement sublets, dorms,
mortgaged cookie cut homes
where god lights blare like truck horns,
coatless or bundled, hardhat headscarf
askew in cold sun, a mother and daughter
slaughter ready at the register, or that
man, rushed, clenched shut at Dunkin’ Donuts,
at  Apna Bazar Cash and Carry, on Roosevelt,
a food-fragrant driver of a yellow taxi,
those sisters, shy and not shy, rival
sports trophies and photos arrayed,
the dead one’s husband, emperor sized
bed against uncurtained white wife light,

empty house and he alone with remote,
& the priests of the convention cathedrals,

limp wrists extended over wine cocktails,
suits and flesh glossy in the gloaming,
wild glint of fossil fuel, DCs far domes
winking yellow, oh all over those blonde,
bland states, saying to Gauri’s camera,
It’s me, barefoot in the ballroom of the dream,
poised, posed, alone, almost American.


Jeet Thayil


‘The Americans’ (2000 - 2007)

"Nearly five decades after Robert Frank, Gauri Gill takes a series of solitary journeys through America traveling extensively from New York and New Jersey to California to the Midwest and five Southern states. She moves outward, from the nucleus of family and friends to their networks, through a map lined with the material and psychological presence of migrants. The resultant body of photographs. The Americans, emerges as a palimpsest that documents the new Americans – Indian immigrants. That Gill addresses her subjects with the transnational gaze of the traveling photographer brings her subject within the potent discourse of migration and diaspora, post-coloniality and the new world. Set in the chromatic intimacy of the candid photograph, it is inscribed by the material residue of two cultures, of the glittering flecks of Bollywood and Hollywood, the Indian and the American dream."

 

From Gayatri Sinha's essay on the work, New Delhi 2008

 

"Given Gill’s explicit invocation of Frank (apparent, as I’ve suggested at so many different levels), how should we understand the object of her critique? Does she intend to present Indo-Americans as part of a liberating counter-culture? Is she mounting a critique in part of a US consumerist dream that fails to deliver for most Indian-Americans? This seems implicit in a number of powerful images which take the viewer very close to the quotidian routines of low-paid manual work (for instance the moving diptych showing Laljibhai and Pushpa Patel cleaning the Days Inn West in Mississippi). But is she also mounting a critique from within of aspects of the Indic tradition, of targets such as religious orthodoxy, Bollywood and patriarchy? The display of cut-out victims from a benefit function for the subjects of domestic violence suggests this quite clearly. The serried ranks of Bollywood videos with peeling labels set alongside racks of salwarkameez may be intended to communicate the routinized repetitive actions of diaspora nostalgia. Or it may be intended to record its tenacity – its steadfastness, and endurance, in this new context. Such ambivalence, of course – and the power it gives the viewer to come to their own conclusions - is a considerable part of the power that Gauri Gill’s project offers. Like Robert Frank’s work, her images are not easily "selected and interpreted", but they speak of things that are there: "anywhere and everywhere"."

 

From Christopher Pinney’s talk at the show at Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago 2008

 

PDF of full text

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Installation views, Bose Pacia Gallery, New York 2009 Install Install

Installation views, Mississauga Central Library, Mississauga 2011 images images images images

 

Untitled, from Nizamuddin at Night .

Untitled, from Nizamuddin at Night

Silver gelatin print. Size variable.

‘Nizamuddin at Night’ (2005 – ongoing)

The photographer sometimes walks around in her neighborhood in New Delhi at night, with a camera, but without a flash or tripod.

 

"Gauri's intimately stark renditions of the area of Nizamuddin shot during the night time gave a beautiful gray-scale representation of winter in one of oldest areas of Delhi. Placed randomly across the still wet grey walls of the rooms the photos almost enacted a watery washed out collage rendering a psycho active tapestry of solitary socio-cultural glimpses of Nizamuddin. Charged with a prolific eye for the most visually self contained images from the vicinity Gauri's entire photo 'installation' assumed an appearance of a multi windowed black box with windows into a different space and time...very connected to the immediate area and yet completely ethereal in it's entirety."


Khoj Residency 2005

 

“I started to photograph my neighborhood in the year 2005. Returning home late at night, I would notice things that I didn’t in the day. Lit up by streetlights, houselights and moonlight, sometimes diffused by the rain and fog, Nizamuddin became another place. One of the first pictures I took was of a white van. Its precise location on the road, its mysterious alignment with the shadows imprinted on it, transformed it from an ordinary van into another creature altogether. It was as if I had passed through a door into another world.”


Gauri Gill 2007

 

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Gurgaon, 2004.

Gurgaon, 2004

Silver gelatin print. Size variable.

‘Rememory’ (2003 - ongoing)

"Gauri Gill constructs her images like a careful essayist, recording the urban metropolis in transition. In her urban landscapes her subject is the city in states of transition. In divesting her subject of people and colour, Gill sets up a psychological debate with her viewer, and investigation into the nature of desire and its uncertain outcome. Structures appear like accretions on the land, frequently silent, dark and forgiving. Against these, the pursuits of the metropolitan dream, nevertheless survives. When the interiors do reveal themselves, they bear marks of migrancy, aspiration and the imprint of the dream. Gauri places on the same scale of desire the interior of the pastry shop, and the anticipated wedding feast, the photo studio which feeds into masquerade and performance and the drawing rooms of middle class suburbia. We are looking from the outside into a (failed) utopia of demolished buildings, 'painted' scenes of happy domesticity.

 

Structurally, she is drawing on multiple photographic traditions, of the studio as a site for wish fulfilment, of the popular/vernacular tradition in India, as architectural structures as cultural readings, as documented in the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Of urban sites of the "quiet and the commonplace" and the vast city spaces of detritus and waste, as recorded in the work of Michael Ashkin. In this way, the work hovers between nostalgia and strange absences, the promise of pleasure and its exhausted satiation."

 

Gayatri Sinha 2007

 

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