James Cohan is delighted to announce its representation of Delhi-based artist Gauri Gill.
For nearly two decades, Gauri Gill has investigated the interplay between obscurity and power through her images of daily life in rural India. Initially trained in painting and applied arts in New Delhi, Gill shifted her focus in the early-1990s to study photography in the United States. Since then, Gill has established herself as a force in the photography field, shaping a new image of life in India. Her photographs unearth acts of resilience by honoring her subjects in vernacular moments and moving the spotlight away from the media’s one-dimensional portrayal of oppression, the struggle for education, healthcare and land issues faced by India’s rural and indigenous communities. According to Gill, “the universal is often achieved by looking at the local or the quotidian, things that are familiar and therefore not exotic, but never ordinary.”
Gill was born in Chandigarh in 1970, and worked as a photojournalist before embarking on her own expansive and collaborative process of image-making. Gill’s long-standing engagement with marginalized communities began in 1999 with her ongoing body of work Notes from the Desert, which comprises thousands of gelatin silver photographs. In this archive of images, Gill presents revealing snapshots of daily life in Western Rajasthan, a region near the border with Pakistan, through her candid, intimate style of photography. Gill often revisits the same subjects and places over extended periods of time, developing close relationships with the individuals and families she interacts with in a continuous process engagement, of which documentation is a by-product.
Gill’s images are a form of remembrance, where objects depicted and places memorialized are embedded with community identities. Whether it is through her black-and-white photographs of spaces in Rajasthan, including grave-sites in her series Traces to empty classrooms whose walls are imaginatively painted with instructional diagrams and anatomical drawings in The Mark on the Wall, each work emits a sombre quietude.
Over the last decade, Gill has developed collaborative partnerships in an effort to further blur the line between photographer and subject. Beginning in 2013, Gill and renowned Adivasi painter, Rajesh Vangad have worked together on Fields of Sight, a series of photographs taken by Gill and then hand-inscribed in black paint by Vangad to co-create new imagery of life in Ganjad, a small farming village. These fantastical works combine the contemporary language of photography with that of ancient Warli drawing, a genre of folk art which utilizes the geometric vocabulary of circles, triangles, and squares to symbolize different elements in nature, and the world.
In 2015, Gill began collaborating with papier-mâché artists of the Kokna and Warli tribes in Maharashtra, renowned for their sacred masks. In this series Acts of Appearance, she invited her collaborators to go beyond the confines of their traditional mask making and develop a new set of forms. Through these vibrant color photographs, Gill tells fictional stories improvised with her collaborator-subjects as they engage in everyday village activities while inhabiting new masks, recalling animals, humans and revered objects that they made expressly for this body of work. The resulting images vacillate between reality and otherworldliness, unfolding in a range of symbolic and sometimes playful scenarios all situated within the backdrop of the surrounding village.
Gill’s photographs are an invitation for the audience to "enter the frame." She says, “If the classic trope is that I am the photographer, and there is the subject, and there is the audience, then I want the spectators to be onstage too, to break through and speak back.” Ultimately, Gill is interested in provoking layers of dialogue through her imagery and suggests the barriers between subject and viewer are fluid, drawing us into the narratives at play.
Gauri Gill (b. 1970, Chandigarh, India) earned a BFA (Applied Art) from the College of Art, New Delhi; BFA (Photography) from Parsons School of Design/The New School, New York; and MFA (Art) from Stanford University, California. She has exhibited extensively within India and internationally, including the Venice Biennale 2019; MoMA PS1, New York; Documenta 14, Athens and Kassel; Kochi Biennale; 7th Moscow Biennale; Wiener Library, London; and Whitechapel Gallery, London. Recent solo exhibitions include Object/Set: Gauri Gill’s Acts of Appearance at the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, Traces at the Tinguely Museum, Basel, and Projects 108: Gauri Gill at MoMA PS1, New York, among others. Her work is in the collections of prominent institutions worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Museum, London; the Smithsonian Institution, Washington and Fotomuseum, Winterthur. In 2011 she was awarded the Grange Prize, Canada’s foremost award for photography. Gill is currently based in Delhi and is working on two forthcoming books.