I have found by going back and looking again at both her work and that of Zineb Sedira that there were aspects that became more prevalent, and more similarities between them I was first aware of. I first saw the work of Zarina Bhimji at the Whitechapel Gallery, London in December 2012. This exhibitions covered 25 years of her work and at that time I was particularly motivated by her use of photography and film together in an exhibition. Like Sedira she was born in 1963, and her family moved to the UK in 1974 following the expulsion of the Ugandan Asians under the Idi Amin regime.
She works with photographs, large-scale film installations and mixed media artefacts, and her work seems to be a constant exploration of cultural identity and history with reference to India and East Africa.
Her first film that received critical acclaim was Out of Blue (2002) which is a visual journey across Uganda with accompanying sounds of fire, birds and human voices. One thing that is particularly noticeable in her work is the absence of the human presence, although in Out of Blue there are fleeting almost ghost-like figures that briefly appear, but the viewer realises that she is more interested in the surroundings and creating an atmosphere. She explores the buildings and what has been left behind; a row of machine guns and rifles lined up against a wall, suggesting the aftermath of violence and war, yet abandoned as they stand.
This image formed part of the exploratory work which she undertook and later became the film Out of Blue. It shows the inside of one of the buildings at Entebbe Airport, a place of departure for the Asians leaving for the UK.
In 2012 her film Yellow Patch (2011) was nominated for the Turner Prize and this will be explored in more detail in my Mixed Media Essay. Bhimji was interviewed by the publisher Phaidon about the film, where she states that she is not interested in people (http://uk.phaidon.com/aganda/art/picture-galleries/2012/january/18/zarina-bhimjis-world-without-people/) but she is interested to “… conjure stories about those who were once present and urge us to question why they are no longer there.”
The film looks at the landscape and architecture, with smooth slow panning of the scenes, an accompanying soundtrack of thunder, birdsong, radio broadcasts and the sounds of the government buildings as they must have been when they were busy and bustling with people. They are now abandoned and in varying stages of decay, almost as if the people left in a hurry, with files still in evidence on the shelves.
One thing that is very apparent throughout her work is the amount of research she must have undertook and also the fact that the artifacts were made available to her to document and film. Her work She Loved to Breathe – Pure Silence (1987) was an installation of eight photographic tinted images sandwiched together between plexiglass sheets and suspended by indivisible wire from the gallery ceiling. One frame includes a pair of latex gloves with a government stamp on the back.
The exhibition book, entited, ‘Zarina Bhimji’, 2012, The Whitechapel Gallery, London: Ridinghouse, refers to the exhibits as evidence of a Home Office procedure whereby Asian women arriving at Heathrow Airport in the 1970s, were forced to undergo virginity tests, to determine if they should be allowed to enter the UK for marriage. This procedure was subsequently proved to be illegal but seems truely shocking to find out that this had taken place.
The work by Bhimji appears to be very politically motivated however the way it is presented leaves it very much up to the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions. She is not preaching but merely stating the fact that this was how it was.