Chennai Photo Biennale 2019: Gauri Gill depicts everyday lives of an Adivasi village in Maharashtra using masks [Photos]
Gauri Gill's 'Acts of Appearance' assumed its form within a village of Adivasi paper mache artists from the Kokna tribe in Jawhar district of Maharashtra.
Gauri Gill's 'Acts of Appearance' assumed its form within a village of Adivasi paper mache artists from the Kokna tribe in Jawhar district. Further inland from Dahanu, it is one of the most impoverished districts in Maharashtra.
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 over several nights, to enact a mythological tale. 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 30 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 ageing. In the course of the 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.
Gauri Gill is a Delhi based photographer. Her work is in the collections of prominent institutions worldwide, and in 2011 she was awarded the Grange Prize, Canada’s foremost award for photography. Various ongoing projects 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 behaviour; in it there is empathy, surprise, and a human concern over issues of survival.