Far away from India’s urban centers, the photographer Gauri Gill (*1970) has been exploring the modes of survival and daily lives of the country’s rural population for more than two decades. From October 13, 2022, to January 8, 2023, the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt is presenting the first extensive survey exhibition of the artist’s multifaceted photographic oeuvre, bringing together around 240 works from major series.
Gill’s quiet, concentrated images focus the viewer’s gaze on barely perceived peripheral areas of Indian society. In an open, collaborative process that resists documentary conventions, the artist devotes her work to themes such as survival, self-assertion, identity, and belonging, as well as conceptual issues relating to memory and authorship. Along with the dimension of time and serial continuity, tenacity and empathy are decisive factors in her practice of art, in which she seeks to overcome outdated narratives and stereotypes. Through her dialogic use of the camera and intense, personal communication across classes, religions, and generations, the artist explores a new form of “collective vision” as she searches for diverse voices.
The foundation of Gill’s work and the starting point for several of her photo series is the long-term archival project Notes from the Desert, in which she has used photography to engage with marginalized communities in Rajasthan in the border region of western India since 1999. In this series, as across her entire oeuvre, the artist particularly expresses her long friendships with women, whom she highlights in intimate portraits. A counterpoint to her projects in the desert is the photo series The Americans (2000–07), devoted to the diverse lives of the Indian diaspora, especially in terms of migration, homeland, and connection to culture. The exhibition at the Schirn also highlights Gill’s collaborative approach, which includes working with artists from rural regions. In her most recent series, Acts of Appearance (2015-ongoing), for example, she incorporates masks made by papier-mâché artists from the Kokna and Warli communities in Jawhar, Maharashtra, into improvised scenes of daily life, devising a fascinating dialogue between reality and fiction.
Sebastian Baden, director of the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, remarks: “Gauri Gill gives viewers direct access to her work. With the most profoundly human themes, as well as the topicality and political scope of her photographs, she combines social and aesthetic aspects in her work. Her projects, often created in cooperation with others over periods of many years, testify to a deep connection to the land and its people and, as a liberating artistic tool, are uniquely capable of overcoming stereotypes. It is with great pleasure that we look forward to presenting Gauri Gill’s exceptional oeuvre in her first large survey at the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt.” Esther Schlicht, curator of the exhibition, comments on the artist’s work methods: “Gauri Gill pursues an extremely diverse repertoire of visual strategies, from intimate snapshots and a conceptual body of motifs to overpainted landscape photographs and tableaux vivants. Beyond all formal and conceptual differences, her impressive body of work is permeated by a deeply felt interest in people, their struggles, and their creativity, which is reflected in an approach based on dialogue and cooperation, while also expressing a decidedly political stance."