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Gauri Gill

Indian-American Contemporary Artist
Born 1970, Chandigarh, India
Lives and works in New Delhi

Gauri Gill’s photographs treads along several lines including issues of migration, social mobility and memory. She deploys both an improvised method and the studio pictures, both colour and black and white pictures, probing the dialectics between cultural signifiers and social statuses. Her photographs usually carry a sense of innocence whilst charged with a certain tragedy in injustice.

Education

2002

MFA, Art Stanford University, California

1994

BFA, Photography, Parsons School of Design, New York

1992

BFA, Applied Art, Delhi College of Art, New Delhi

 

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LIFE AND WORK

UNDERSTANDING Gauri Gill

A wide range of visual aesthetics is employed in her work

Gauri’s visual aesthetics range from posed studio photos to candid snapshots, from family portraits to empty landscapes, and from black and white to colour.

In her “Balika Mela”, 2003-10, young village girls from Rajasthan pose with or without props against a draped background. A catalogue published under the same name brings all such images together, that Gauri shot over her two visits to the annual “Fair for Girls” (Balika Mela), an event in the village of Lunkaransar, Rajasthan. This photo document embodies India’s staggered engagement with modernity. For the young girls posing in the makeshift tent studio, the moment of improvisation becomes a performance. The girls perform gender, cross gender, divines, Bollywood, and just themselves, with an interested gaze at the camera. 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.

As against this, the series titled Nizamuddin at Night, 2005, moves completely away from staged portraiture into the territory of ‘candid photography’. These works, shot in the dead of the night, document a solitary, socio-cultural glimpse of one of the richest residential areas of Delhi in grey-scale.

Gauri Gill, Sunita, Sita and Nirmala, 2003, archival digital print, 28 x 42”.

Gauri Gill, Untitled, 2005,silver gelatine print, size variable. From Nizamuddin at Night series.

The artist engages with issues of class, community and social standing

Gauri also engages with the issue of class and community, the prime identity markers of India, and how that determines social mobility and behaviour. In her recently released pamphlet at Kafila.org, titled 1984, Gill documents the relatives of victims of the 1984 Anti-Sikh riots in Delhi post the assassination of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. The two series pamphlet includes photographs that the artist shot during 2005 (When the Nanavati Commission Report was made public) and 2011 (On the 25th anniversary of the riots). She also asked artists, writers and others, to write something as a comment to go with the photographs, which facilitated looking at the original text with a fresh set of eyes and at a changed context.

Gauri Gill, Taranjeet Kaur, whose grandfather was killed in November 1984, black and white reproductions. From 1984, released on Kafila.org, 2013.

Gauri Gill's work contains several lines of pursuit

Gauri Gill’s photographic practice spans a variety of ideas, and many lines of pursuit. Completing her education in New Delhi, New York and California, her work reflects an outlook as widespread as her life. From photographing villagers in remote corners of Rajasthan to making wealthy NRIs in America to pose for her camera, Gauri’s oeuvre encompasses it all—irrespective of region, religion or background. And yet, these seemingly varied pursuits are bound by a commonality, an intensity of highly mannered symbolism and allegory.

Gauri Gill, Untitled, 2003-ongoing, silver gelatine print. From the series Urban Landscapes.

Gauri attempts a process of self-representation through her works

Another group of Gauri’s work includes portraits of villagers in Rajasthan, with whom she has interacted and lived over several years. Unlike the picture postcard images of Rajasthan coloured with a touristic potential, she worked with native villagers, showcasing the grim realities of their struggle for survival. Captured in black and white, and printed at 50 percent grey, it is as if a perpetual layer of dust and the harsh desert air covers these images. Rajasthan is observed at its nomadic margins, to reveal lives in transition, the inequality and injustice that these people constantly live with.
The artist calls them “friends”, and these are portraits of people she has begun to know over the course of her visits. It is as if through this work, Gill tries to imagine the “Self” by observing the “Other”. Gill said she chose photography as an art form because it can be at once “deeply personal” and a medium “to take you out into the real world”.

Gauri Gill, Janat, Barmer, silver gelatine print, 24 x 30”.

The artist is concerned with the idea of migration, dislocation and memory

Gill’s widely appreciated first solo show “The Americans”, 2008, dealt with the Indian-American experience before and after the 9/11 attacks. Travelling the USA during 2000-07, she photographed Indian American people of all social strata living along the entire stretch of the country—from Queens to Nashville. Inspired by Robert Frank’s photo essay of the same name, Gill’s work focuses on the confused identities of Indians living in the States. From an elderly patriarch sitting in considerable domestic splendour to a woman worker at the Sunsweet prune packing factory, Gill’s work is documentary in nature, capturing despair and alienation but also the gratification of an Indian-American experience.
In another series What Remains, 2007-11, Gill deals with the issue of migration again, but in a slightly different manner. She documents the displacement of Afghani Sikh and Hindu communities from Kabul to Delhi, who, over successive waves of migration, have become icons that question issues of identity, home and belonging.

Gauri Gill, Home of Kundan Singh, Yuba City, 2001, archival pigment print, 27 x 40”.

Gauri Gill, New building complex, Shahrak-e-Aria, Kabul, 2007, silver gelatine print, 11 x 14”.

Bibliography