“Notes from the Desert” collects the photographs of Gauri Gill, made since the 1990s in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan. On view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC, until February 12, the images focus on marginalized communities and straddle the line between portraits, documents and collaborations with her subjects. One series focuses on Izmat, a homeless woman Gill photographed for more than a decade, following her life and the death of her daughter, Jannat, at 23. Others are from an event called Balika Mela, a fair for girls organized by a non-profit. Gill set up a booth among the stalls and performances and invited girls to pose with a selection of props. She writes, “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.” She returned to the fair seven years later to show the images and make more.
Longterm, repeated engagement with her subjects and their struggle mark Gill’s work. As Carol Huh, the Freer and Sackler’s curator for contemporary art, says in a statement, “Gill’s ‘Notes from the Desert’ quietly conveys the cycles of joy, sadness and strength that mark daily life in an inhospitable landscape.”
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