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Balika Mela: Review by Raghu Kalra

Exhibit Name: Balika Mela Phtographer: Gauri Gill Curator: Gayatri Sinha Location: Nature Morte gallery, Neeti Bagh, New Delhi


Portraits of Village girls in a local mela; one normally doesn't find these pictures making their way to an exhibition. But this is exactly the theme of Gauri Gill's "Ballika Mela" Shot in 2003 and 2010 'Balika Mela' is a collection of portraits of teenage girls. A 'Balika mela' or 'a fair for girls' was organized at Lunkaransar, a small town in Rajastan. 1500 adolescent Girls from various villages participated in this mela. Gauri Gill was invited to do something at the mela. Gill decided to create a photo-stall for anyone to come and get a picture clicked. This stall had some basic equipment and pictures taken at the stall were later given to the girls who got pictures clicked. In 2010, seven years later Gill visited the mela again and this time did the same but instead of black and white pictures were clicked in colour. The exhibition at Nature Morte Gallery, at Neeti Bagh, Delhi exhibits these pictures in a very innovative way. Prints on glass and butter sheets have given a very interesting perspective to the images. If you stand between a particular set printed on large sheets of butter sheets and hung in the middle of the exhibit you would feel the all the girls in the photographs are looking at you.

Another set of images has been printed on glass and ones see beautiful coloured shadows right behind them. These shadows give the all the pictures a beautiful three dimensional appearance. As gill tells, the girls were not asked to pose for the picture, and when the girls decided on their pose neither were they questioned. Thus girls can be interestingly seen wearing paper hats, posing as if blessing the audience and sitting on a bike in some pictures .


“The girls would try out a few ideas, others would throw out suggestions, wisecracks, and jokes, we’d all collapse with laughter, I’d yell at everyone to get serious, then suddenly someone would come up with an ingenious idea." Gill says, "No one asked why someone might wish to be photographed a certain way. I did not ask why the girls wished to pose three in a row blessing their audience, or wearing paper hats like crowns.” She adds. ( Roselyn D'Mello, September 2012)


Another interesting photograph is of a large portrait with a woman sitting and touching a flower stand, while wearing dark sun glasses. This is perhaps the only photograph in the entire exhibit where the eyes of the subjects are not visible. But one can see a strength and confidence in her body language. Eyes play a very important role in all other photographs by Gill. Even though virtually all girls in the pictures show no expressions on their face, their eyes seem to go through the observers heart. You can easily see the sadness and anger in the eyes of the girls. Steve McCurry's Afghan Girl immediately comes to your mind when you are going through the pictures.


The Afghan Girl, Steve McCurry

The Balika Mela Exhibit ends at a positive note with three pictures of girls laughing and playing in the rains. Unlike all other pictures of exhibits, happiness can be seen in these images. Perhaps the only missing element in the entire exhibition was captions. Even though all of Gill's photographs have a name and caption to them, None was displayed. The audience might have been able to connect in a better way with the photographs had the information been shown. Gill has done justice to all the pictures by showcasing them in very unique and graceful manner.

Reference: 1. Gauri Gill- Everything but the girl | 16th June 2012 http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/arts/everything-but-the-girl 2. http://www.naturemorte.com | 26th September 2012 3. www.gaurigill.com | 26th September 2012 4. Steve McCurry (1984) National Geographic Magazine| Cover Photo

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