Zarina Bhimji

I recently stumbled upon the Zarina Bhimji exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery on a rainy, snowy London day. I was hungry, tired, mopey, and a little irritated to have remembered too late that the Whitechapel Gallery is not next to the Whitechapel tube station.

I honestly didn’t know much about Zarina Bhimji and what to expect from the exhibition. All I could associate with the name was the 2007 Turner Prize nomination, and the fact that she has an Indian heritage though she’s not quite Indian.

But what happens in such cases is that you connect with the display more openly than would otherwise have been possible. No preconceived notions; no mental lists of what you want to see; no favorites.

At least not when I started off.

Your Sadness is Drunk (2001-2006), Zarina Bhimji

What I got was a survey of 25 years of her work, and a display that amalgamates borrowings and traces of history from across three countries. Zarina was born in Uganda to Indian parents, and moved to England after the expulsion of the Asian community from Uganda during the Idi Amin reign. Feelings of emptiness and abandonment ring loud and clear in her work, and you don’t have to read the wall text to get a sense that part of her still belongs and misses the elsewhere.

Her genius lies in the fact that she photographs landscapes and buildings that are wiped clear of human presence but tell many layered stories. And when you add sound and motion to these landscapes as she does in her films Yellow Patch (2011) and Out of Blue (2002), what you get is a moving, speaking impression of histories past and present.

Shadows and Disturbances (2007), Zarina Bhimji

Yellow Patch is one of my favorite pieces and it is well worth sitting through the entire film which is about 29 minutes. I also preferred the works on the ground floor more than the display on the floor above. But you do need to see them all to get a sense of how Zarina has evolved as an artist.

Zarina Bhimji
Upto 12 Mar 2012
Whitechapel Gallery

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