Project 108: Gauri Gill at MoMA PS1

Art Scene

Project 108: Gauri Gill at MoMA PS1

Upon receipt in 2011 of the highly coveted Canadian photography award, the Grange Prize, photographer Gauri Gill explained, “I chose photography as an art form because it takes you out into the real world…I am interested in ideas of representation of who is visible and invisible.” Her current exhibition at MoMA PS1, Project 108: Gauri Gill, continues to explore this predilection, albeit in nuanced layers.

The exhibition highlights Gill’s most recent body of work, Acts of Appearance, and is the photographer’s U.S. premiere. Born in Chandigarh, India, Gill studied at the Delhi College of Art, the Parsons School of Design in New York and at Stanford University in California. Her previous in-depth projects include multiyear studies of Indian diaspora in America (The Americans) and marginalized communities in rural Rajasthan (Notes from the Desert), among others.

Gauri Gill. Untitled from the series Acts of Appearance. 2015–ongoing. Courtesy the artist and Nature Morte, New Delhi, India. © 2018 Gauri Gill

InActs of Appearance, Gill continues a socially engaged approach to her documentary style photography, one that takes place over an extended period of time and engages local communities as both collaborators and subjects. Work from Gill’s series, Notes from the Desertis also on view in the exhibition, amplifying her long-term commitment to this approach across projects. However, Acts of Appearanceexemplifies the evolution of Gill’s image making into one that includes the artwork of her subject-collaborators as content within each image. In this case, Gill worked with members of an Adivasi community, known for their papier-mâché objects, including traditional sacred masks, in Jawhar district, Maharashtra, India.

Gauri Gill. Untitled from the series Acts of Appearance. 2015–ongoing. Courtesy the artist and Nature Morte, New Delhi, India. © 2018 Gauri Gill

For the project, members of the community made new masks that were worn during their everyday activities. Gill’s color photographs feature scenarios where people are chatting, working, washing, creating, resting, sewing, or appearing to be in a doctor’s office or school. The masks feature physical characteristics of humans, animals, or valued objects including: a monkey, owl, boar, elephant, bird, human faces, and even a cell phone and television. An otherworldly type of serious play seems to be at work in the photographs. While the masks bring to mind the theatrical, the straightforward and unemotional expressions of animals, human faces and objects reinforce the repetition of daily mundane activity and the emotional tenor it invokes.

Gauri Gill. Untitled from the series Acts of Appearance. 2015–ongoing. Courtesy the artist and Nature Morte, New Delhi, India. © 2018 Gauri Gill

In this body of work, Gill collaboratively facilitates the visibility of a community that most people, in a global context, are unaware of. She explores the world of the visible and the invisible through an object used across time and cultures – the mask – and allows the collaborator-subjects of her images to control their own narratives. It is one thing to make a community or subject visible, but it’s another thing entirely to allow them to participate in their own presentation.

Project 108: Gauri Gill at MoMA PS1is on view through September 3, 2018.