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Simryn Gill

Malaysian Contemporary artist
Born 1959, Singapore
Lives and works in Sydney, Australia and Port Dickson, Malaysia

Simryn Gill is a photo based installation artist who experiments with various media. Her works are replete with issues of migratory identity, rapidly morphed spaces , the tussle between nature and culture and the nature of an artist’s special relation with spaces which are often personalized and imagined.


The artist received education in India and UK

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She is a mixed media artist

Simryn Gill is a photo-based installation artist, who often sculpts out models from varied materials, including found objects which symbolize her profound relation with the material culture around her. Her work “Throwback” (2007) is an installation designed out of the interiors of a TATA truck (engine and axels) recast in a termite mound, soils, river clay, laterite, sea shells, fruit skins, coconut bark, resin and fibre laid out on a huge dissecting table, the engine and the axels like the body and spanner wrenches around it like the surgical instruments laid ready for the autopsy.  Her other seminal, much earlier work titled “Forking Tongues” (1992)which is a pointer to her salad bowl growth since childhood in different cultural contexts, amidst a personal history of migration is composed of dried red chillies inserted between assorted silver cutlery in a spiral formation installed on the floor.

Simryn Gill, Forking tongues, 1992, assorted cutlery with dried chillies, 600cm (installed, diam., approx.)

Intimate and curious bond with material objects

George Alexander suggests, “With Gill-colored glasses, even squashed cans and discarded ring-pulls take on the glamour of millefiori paperweights and Limoges pill-boxes; the jack-hammered section of a building revealed the roots of a palm tree and made me wonder:is it or isn’t it art?”. This logic of making art out of the everyday is evident in all of Simryn Gill’s art works. In a work titled “Pearls” (1999), she creates a necklace out of the paper pages of the books of personal value which her friends gift her. She makes beads out of the paper and strings them together like a pearl necklace and returns it the respective friends, the nature of the necklace (weight and volume) depending on the volume of the book.

Simryn Gill, Pearls, 1999

Gyll has the identity of a migrant

Artist Simryn Gill is born of Punjabi ancestry in Singapore and later schooled in India and England and currently living in Australia and Malaysia has often been dubbed as a “postcolonial artist” , one who works to eke out an identity, a stable one for herself out the various shifting codes of name, place and things around her.  One of her iconic works titled "Paper Boats" (2009) symbolises her uneasy relationship with migratory lives and its consequences. The artist’s life has also been always floating like the paper boats and often gets close to capsizing, yet it manages to survive.  She notes in an interview, “I think about the way in which we are not fixed, but I do work deeply with specificity and circumstance and how we live in our space-whether that’s a set of ideas or a physical thing or a mobile thing... My relationship to place-ness is very wobbly and kind of ambivalent...and that’s really the space that I occupy.”

Simryn Gill, Paper boats, 2008, installation view detail

Her take on space in inspiring

Owing to her atypical location in terms of her national identity, place of birth/place of origin and the strange identity consciousness that this results in, the works of Gill speak out for the multiple possibilities of metamorphosis potent in a space. In her world, place which is otherwise a signpost of identity, is capable of losing all its fixities giving rise to continuous spaces which are homogeneous as against the unchanging (but potentially wobbly with internal disturbances) place. Thus is allowed to experience (her ) “My Own Private Angkor” (2007), a series of gelatine prints (photographs taken at a housing estate in Port Dickson, Malaysia that is becoming overgrown and returning to the surrounding landscape that the artist has appropriated as her own Angkor Wat in reverse, depicting the moribund status of a defeated ecology which now stands morphed into a concrete jungle), the title possibly inspired from the Gus Van Sant’s 1991 film My Own Private Idaho.

Simryn Gill, My Own Private Angkor, #32, 2007/09, gelatin silver photograph, image: 15 1/2 x 14 3/4 inches, paper: 23 x 19 inches

Return to nature characterises her works

A number of Gill’s works titled “Forests” (1996-98), “ Vegetation”(1999), “A small town at the turn of the century” (1999-2001) symbolize the triumph of nature over culture. People with their heads covered in vegetation (fruits and leaves), banana plantains dressed in human clothes, close shots of unkempt vegetation against disused concrete buildings all points towards an attempt to erase all brutal interactions of the triumphant humanity and the vanquished colonised nature which was ruthlessly trampled over and forced to take a back seat. Gill’s activist artworks are a celebration of a possibility of reclamation of nature’s superiority over the mechanized, mediatised, technocratic jungle.

Simryn Gill, A small town at the turn of the century #22, 2001, 40 C-Prints in the series, 36 x 36 inches