The Whitechapel gallery presents the first major survey exhibition of Zarina Bhimji’s work that spans 25 years. Upon entering the gallery we are faced with a series of photographs, that present us with abandoned landscapes and buildings, which become the protagonists of the photographs. Individually the photographs appear abstract but when viewed collectively they work to display an overarching narrative, that is ethereal and haunting.
Zarina Bhimji was born in Mbarara, Uganda in 1963 to Indian parents, and moved to Britain in 1974, two years after the expulsion of Uganda’s Asian community in the Idi Amin era. Idi Amin declared an economic war that included the expropriation of properties owned by Asians and Europeans, which led to the collapse and decline of the economy. Bhimji’s repeated locations for her archeological investigations are India and East Africa. Within these baren and isolated landscapes we are only left with the traces and remains, as a viewer we begin to question what has happened here before? The baren is imbued with a presence that is highly commemorative and poetic. Bhimji speaks as her work as “objects as evidence”, exploring the human dramas of colonialism, slavery and migration. We are presented with a resurfacing of layered histories and at times these ghostly buildings seem shattered by their former past, which creates an unsettling affect on the viewer.
The highlight of the show is the premiere of her long-awaited film, YellowPatch (2011), inspired by trade and migration across the Indian Ocean. YellowPatch documents Haveli palaces and colonial offices in Mumbai harbour the accompanying soundtrack of strange noises and voices creates a compelling and alarming atmosphere. YellowPatch complements the renowned film Out of Blue (2002), which takes the viewer on an arresting journey across the terrain.
Again these landscapes are desolate accept for an occasional glimpse of a spider weaving a web or stray animals, we can only imagine what happened here long ago, the unimaginable becomes tangible through her sumptuous and beautifully composed shots, suspending the viewer within the filmic tension.
Also on view; are rarely seen earlier works’ black-and-white photographs with colourful spices, She Loved to Breathe-Pure Silence (1987), Light boxes and large format photographs from Cleaning the Garden (1998), first commissioned for Harewood House, Leeds, and the Love Series (2001–06), panoramic photographs rooted in the research for Out of Blue (2002)
This unsettling and evocative exhibition is not to be missed!
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Review by Chantelle Purcell