Photography at India Art Fair

“The world of English is the world that is seen to be the centre, the norm. But there are many, many, many other worlds.” These are the words of Indian contemporary photographer Gauri Gill, an artist renowned for her work on rural and diasporic Indian communities. Gill shines a light on the experience of global majority people, from her documentation of marginalised individuals in Western Rahasthan (Notes From the Desert, 1999) to her pictures that show the effects of the restrictive agricultural laws in Punjab and Haryana. The artist exhibits as part of India Art Fair 2024, taking place in New Delhi from the 1 – 4 February. It’s an event that brings together leading Indian and international contemporary galleries, hosting 108 exhibitors as well as artists such as Dayanita Singh, Rana Begum and Tayeba Begum Lipi. With a focus on nature, history and memory we take a look at four photographers to watch at this year’s edition.

Soumya Sankar Bose (b. 1990) is a Kolkata-based artist working across photography and film. In 2023, Bose visited Joshimath, a town in Uttarakhand, India, at the foothills of the Himalayas to document the memories of people native to the town, displaced from their homes due to a geological phenomenon called land subsidence – a sudden sinking of the surface. Employing re-enacted memories, in-depth research, interviews and oral histories in his photographs, Bose seeks to delve into how the people carry the memory of their homes after relocating to a new place. Cavernous, pastel-toned images are characterised by a ghostly solitude reminiscent of the dusky shots of Trung Bao and Wong Chung-Wai.

Elsewhere, Gauri Gill (b. 1970) explores the identity of Kokna and Warli tribes. Gill’s ongoing series Acts of Appearance chronicles the lives of residents in the village of Maharashtra, in Western India, known for making Adivasi masks. Instead of asking residents to consecrate gods or demons as per local tradition and lore, Gill asked subjects to make masks that would portray their own lives. The resulting masks consist of familiar people, animals or objects. In one image, a woman in a yellow cheetah disguise sews a blanket on her front doorstep. In another, a figure lays on a blanket in a pink sari, donning a matching cobra-inspired headdress. The images embody joy, humour, surprise and longing, moving from stylised portraits to photographs that show individuals at doctor appointments, in classrooms or selling fruit.

Emerging artists such as Abhijit Deb navigate the tension between fact and fiction. Disembodied arms pop out from trees, blankly pointing to something off shot. A bouquet of gold dust flowers bloom from the blue hood of a figure. In a square photograph entitled Jade, a cluster of teal-coloured sparkles shine across a clear lake. Visual surrealism is similarly explored by UK-based Turkish artist Güler Ates (b. 1977). Ates explores layers, landscape and identity, reflecting on notions of “Eastern” and “Western” sensibilities. Enigmatic figures in long, draping headscarves and cloaks cross woodlands, stately homes and church halls, striding between displays of historic artefacts and items. Ates explains, “The sites that I work within are of a particular era with specific links to colonialism and the “East.” As part of the performance, the subject tells a story drawn from the history of the site, exploring my feeling of cultural duality.”

The fifteenth edition of the fair is a crucial event that showcases the very best of international and region-specific creativity. In addition to photography exhibitions, highlights include performance pieces by Jyothidas K V and Sajan Mani, using ritualistic movements and immersive soundscapes, as well as an commissioned installation by Sashikanth Thavudoz that considers the relationship between natural and industrial materials. It’s a programme that encourages the cross-pollination of art, design, activism and craftmanship, all the while paying well deserved attention to topics of gender, climate and nationhood.

Indian Art Fair | 1 – 4 February

Image Credits:

Soumya Sankar Bose, Untitled, 2023

Soumya Sankar Bose, Untitled, 2023

Abhijit Deb, Epoms, 2023

Abhijit Deb, Bloom, 2021

Güler Ates, Woman in the Woodland I, 2023.