Gauri Gill is a Delhi based photographer. Various ongoing projects of her highlight her sustained belief in collaboration and ‘active listening’; and in using photography as a memory practice. Gill’s work addresses the twinned Indian identity markers of class and community as determinants of mobility and social behavior; within which there is empathy, surprise, and a human concern over issues of survival. Gauri Gill has exhibited within India and internationally, including MoMA PS1, New York; Documenta 14, Athens and Kassel; Kochi Biennale; Freer and Sackler galleries at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; Wiener Library, London; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Whitechapel Gallery, London and National Gallery of Art, Warsaw. In 2011, she was awarded the Grange Prize, Canada’s foremost award for Photography. Her works are in the collections of prominent institutions worldwide.
‘Acts of Appearance’ assumed its form within an Adivasi village, where papier mâché artists from the Kokna tribe in Jawhar district reside. Further inland from Dahanu, it is one of the most impoverished districts in Maharashtra. In Rajasthan, among her Jogi friends during Holi, Gill had first encountered people wearing store-bought masks to play/act various personas as part of the fun of the festival. In Maharashtra, she learned of the Bahora procession, held once a year in many Adivasi villages, in which the entire community participates in a ritual performance of mythical tales, that take place over several nights. The performers are chosen from among the residents and wear elaborate masks made by artists to represent different gods, demons, and ancillary figures. The Bahora masks take weeks to make, are sacred and consecrated, and constitute a moral and imaginative universe, but also conform to strict rules of creation as they represent powerful archetypes refined over generations of storytelling. In 2014, Gill sought out the acclaimed brothers Subhas and Bhagvan Dharma Kadu, sons of the legendary craftsman Dharma Kadu, with a proposal. She wished to commission them, along with their families and fellow volunteers (more than thirty people in total), to create a new set of masks—not of gods or demons as per local tradition and lore, but rather as representing beings existing in contemporary reality. The interpretive creations were to come from them, with the suggestion that they embody different ages, distinctive individuals, the varied rasas (emotions) like love, sadness, fear or anger, and those experiences common to all humans, such as sickness, relationships, or aging. In the course of dialogue, animals were naturally understood to be a part of this universe. Later, precious objects entered the frame, as they are believed have sentience too. Inhabiting these masks, a cast of ‘actor’ volunteers (including the artists) would later improvise and enact different 'real' scenarios, 'across dreaming and waking states’, in and around the village.