June 15, 2018 - Museum Tinguely - Gauri Gill. Traces
June 15, 2018

Museum Tinguely

Gauri Gill, Untitled from Traces, 1999–ongoing. © Gauri Gill.

Gauri Gill. Traces
June 13–November 1, 2018

Museum Tinguely
Paul Sacher-Anlage 1
CH-4002 Basel
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday 11am–6pm


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In the summer of 2018, Museum Tinguely is presenting a solo exhibition by the Indian photographer Gauri Gill (born 1970 in Chandigarh). The exhibition features two series "Traces" and "Birth Series" drawn from her extensive archive Notes from the Desert. The two series are complementary, presenting aspects of coming into being and passing away in a specific cultural context. In turn, the dual series contrast with the opulent pictorial tradition of the dance of death with which they are juxtaposed in the form of Jean Tinguely’s Mengele-Totentanz (1986).

"Traces" presents a selection of large-format pictures of graves made in the desert of West Rajasthan. The motifs are moving in their simplicity and their tendency to dissolve into the landscape. The graves in the photographs are characterized by stark contrasts between glaring sunlight and shadow, emphasizing the relief of the ground and the texture of the natural elements and other materials. They create a striking sense of place and convey something of the imaginary "Great Breath," the purity and silence of the desert landscape, which in turn is characterized by a feeling of floating lightness. Many of the graves are very personal and often so discreet as to be barely recognizable to outsiders. Using stones, shards of pottery, hand-inscribed gravestones or personal items, a place is marked with the available materials, in all modesty, to pay homage and cultivate memory. Everyday items known to have belonged to the deceased may tell a personal story, as well as being available for further usage that inscribes them back into life. There are graves of both nomads and settled people, as well as people of various religions, including both Hindu and Muslim, allied in the simplicity imposed by limited economic resources.

In an accompanying set of eight photographs, the "Birth Series" portrays the birth of the granddaughter of the midwife Kasumbi Dai, who invited Gill to be present, and to record the event. With the same empathy and matter-of-factness as Traces, the Birth Series shows coming into being as the counterpart to passing away. Gill’s friendship with Kasumbi Dai, a midwife and feminist working in the remote village of Ghafan in Motasar, allowed her to assist at and take pictures of the birth of the Dai’s granddaughter. The little girl’s first contact with the world is the sandy floor of their dwelling. For all its "naturalness" and simplicity, as an event the birth has a solemn, almost meditative component, as expressed in the midwife’s vividly lined, life-filled face.

Gauri Gill’s diverse œuvre is currently on view at a solo show at MoMA PS1, New York, and has recently featured in major exhibitions at Documenta in Athens and Kassel; Gallery Nature Morte, New Delhi; Prospect 4: The Lotus in spite of the Swamp, New Orleans; the Kochi Muziris Biennale in Kochi; and the Freer and Sackler galleries at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.

She lives and works in New Delhi. She gained a BFA in applied art from Delhi College of Art, New Delhi and a BFA in photography from Parsons School of Design, New York, before completing an MFA at Stanford University in California. Her key works include Notes from the Desert—containing within it series such as "The Mark on the Wall," "Traces," "Jannat," "Balika Mela," "Birth Series" and "Ruined Rainbow"—but also "The Americans," for which, almost half a century after Robert Frank, she photographed the Indian diaspora in the United States; or the collaborative project Fields of Sight that she has been engaged in since 2013 with the well-known Warli artist Rajesh Vangad.

Curator: Roland Wetzel

Museum Tinguely
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