The three girls seen in this photograph, Sunita, Sita, and Nirmala, were participants in Balika Mela, a fair for young girls held annually in the Lunkaransar block of Rajasthan, India. Balika Mela calls attention to the severe disadvantages girls face in the region, while also empowering participants to find their own voice to take a stance against child marriage. Restricted access to health and education, limited opportunity for socialization, and early forced marriage are all issues addressed at this gathering.
Indian photographer Gauri Gill was invited to photograph the girls at Balika Mela in 2003. With a simple studio consisting of a sheet for a backdrop and a few props, Gill invited the girls to bring their friends, decide who would join them in the picture, and choose how they wanted to pose. The resulting images show a formal clarity and a strong compassion for the girls.
Born in Chandigarh, India in 1970 and called “one of India’s most respected photographers” by The New York Times, Gill received the Grange Prize, Canada’s most prestigious award for contemporary photography, in 2010. She returned to Balika Mela that same year to conduct photography classes, teaching and encouraging the girls to take their own pictures.
Three photographs from this series were presented at the annual Indian Cultural Society gathering at the Museum in February. The acquisition of the works from the Thomas Erben Gallery was made possible through generous funds donated by Dora and Sanjay Singh in honor of Gail C. Andrews for her dedicated service to the Indian community in Birmingham.