Delhi-based artist pockets Canada's top photography prize

She was selected by a public vote for the USD 50,000 award, given away by Art Gallery of Ontario and Aeroplan.

Each year, the Grange Prize associates the museum and the Canadian organisation with a partner country of the origin of two of the finalists, while the two others are local. This edition honours India, whereas in 2009 it was Mexico and in 2008, China. Nandini Valli and Canadians Elaine Stocki and Althea Thauberger were also in the fray.

In its verdict, the jury said, "Gauri Gill has recently emerged as one of India's most significant young photographers. Gill's practice is complex because it contains several seemingly discrete lines of pursuit. These include her more than a decade long study of marginalized communities in Rajasthan, of women from different generations and their often tentative encounter with modernity".

"Gill's work also addresses the twinned Indian identity markers of class and community as determinants of mobility and social behaviour. In these works there is irony, a rugged documentary spirit and a human concern over issues of survival."

The Grange Prize annually pits two Canadian photographers against two from another country — this year India. Nandini Valli of Chennai, India, was the other nominee for 2011.

"The award is a real honour. Everything I do involves and is influenced by so many others, that it is in a sense collaborative. So to have won a prize that is judged by the public from different countries - including but not only India - reinforces my belief that we are not alone," Gill told PTI.

Born in Chandigarh, she studied at the Delhi College of Art, the Parsons School of Design, New York and Stanford University.

She started exhibiting in 2007 and her work has been shown widely in India and across the world.

Gill found it very interesting that so many people entered the debate by bothering to look and vote.

"Photography is quite democratic in that sense, both in it's making and viewing. Most people can and do take photographs now - and have an opinion on it - and many who may not speak English or have access to other languages of privilege can access photography in some way. We often wonder who looks at our work, and it's good to know there is an engaged audience".

"I hope the prize also leads people to take a look at the various series in depth - I work in long series - and not only individual frames," she said.

According to Gill, in photography there is the question of power - of who is represented, who is made visible by the camera and who then becomes a "part of our collective consciousness as a society, and how we choose to see ourselves".

She feels there are people who are simply rendered invisible by the powerful mainstream.

"I hope my work may in some small measure acknowledge those who may be considered at the margins but are also my friends, and honor my experience of knowing them."
The four finalists were selected by a nominating jury comprising AGO acting curator of Canadian art Michelle Jacques; Wayne Baerwaldt, the acting vice president of research and academic affairs at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary; Gayatri Sinha, a Delhi-based art critic and curator; and Sunil Gupta, a photographer, writer and curator born in India and living in New Delhi and London, U.K.

The Grange Prize finalists each receive an international residency, part of the prize's mandate to foster the development of contemporary photography. Gill and Valli spent three weeks in Toronto in September working in the AGO's new Artist in Residence studio, researching and creating new work. Stocki and Thauberger plan to travel to India in the new Year.

"The Grange Prize is a model of innovation among international art prizes," said Matthew Teitelbaum, the Michael and Sonja Koerner director, and CEO, Art Gallery of Ontario.

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