Book: Balika Mela – Gauri Gill

By Gauri Gill

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 with photography” at the Mela.

“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.

Text Courtesy:

Hardcover: 178 pages

Publisher: Edition Patrick Frey

ISBN-10: 3905929163

ISBN-13: 978-3905929164

About The Photographer

Gauri Gill (b. 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 within India and internationally, including MoMA PS1, New York; Documenta 14, Athens and Kassel; Kochi Biennale; 7th Moscow Biennale; Freer and Sackler Galleries at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington; Wiener Library, London; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto and Whitechapel Gallery, London. 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, and in 2011 she was awarded the Grange Prize, Canada’s foremost award for photography.

Gill’s practice is complex because it contains several lines of pursuit. These include an almost two decade long engagement with marginalised communities in rural Rajasthan called Notes from the Desert (since 1999)—this ongoing archive contains sub-series such as The Mark on the Wall, Traces, Birth Series, Jannat, Balika Mela, and Ruined Rainbow. She has explored human displacement and the migrant experience in The Americans and What Remains. Projects such as the 1984 notebooks highlight her sustained belief in collaboration and ‘active listening’, and in using photography as a memory practice. Beginning in early 2013, Fields of Sight is an equal collaboration with the renowned Adivasi artist, Rajesh Vangad, combining the contemporary language of photography with the ancient one of Warli drawing to co-create new narratives. In her most recent body of work, Acts of Appearance, (2015—), the artist has worked closely with the paper mache artists of the Kokna tribe in Maharashtra, using unique masks to tell fictional stories improvised together of contemporary life in the village. Working in both black and white and colour, Gill’s work addresses the twinned Indian identity markers of class and community as determinants of mobility and social behaviour; in it there is empathy, surprise, and a human concern over issues of survival.L



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