Zarina Bhimji's world without people

Expelled from her homeland, the Turner Prize nominee's Whitechapel show captures past lives in landscape
Zarina Bhimji, Bapa Closed His Heart, It Was Over (2001-2006)

1 / 10 Zarina Bhimji, Bapa Closed His Heart, It Was Over (2001-2006)

Zarina Bhimji, Yellow Patch (2011)

2 / 10 Zarina Bhimji, Yellow Patch (2011)

Zarina Bhimji, Yellow Patch (2011)

3 / 10 Zarina Bhimji, Yellow Patch (2011)

Zarina Bhimji, Yellow Patch (2011)

4 / 10 Zarina Bhimji, Yellow Patch (2011)

Zarina Bhimji, Breathless Love (2007)

5 / 10 Zarina Bhimji, Breathless Love (2007)

Zarina Bhimji, Memories Were Trapped Inside the Asphalt (1998-2003)

6 / 10 Zarina Bhimji, Memories Were Trapped Inside the Asphalt (1998-2003)

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

7 / 10 Zarina Bhimji, Your Sadness is Drunk (2001-2006)

Zarina Bhimji, Shadows and Disturbances (2007)

8 / 10 Zarina Bhimji, Shadows and Disturbances (2007)

Zarina Bhimji, Untitled (1989)

9 / 10 Zarina Bhimji, Untitled (1989)

Zarina Bhimji, She Loved to Breathe – Pure Silence (detail) (1987)

10 / 10 Zarina Bhimji, She Loved to Breathe – Pure Silence (detail) (1987)

“I’m not interested in people” Asian Ugandan artist Zarina Bhimji tells Phaidon, even though her uninhabited images cannot help but conjure stories about those who were once present and urge us to question why they are no longer there.

A lonely chair tattered and thread-bare, stands centre stage in a house that, although clearly once grand, is now deserted and dilapidated. Piles of documents curled at the edges are stacked on shelves in an abandoned building which, judging by its cashier windows, hints at a past-life as a government headquarters or bank.

These unpeopled scenes are accompanied by a soundtrack of thunder, bird song, monsoon-like rainfall, footsteps and the hustle and bustle of a public space to create Bhimji's highly evocative new film Yellow Patch. “My work always starts on a visual level, it’s to do with light, texture and composition and of atmosphere and intimacy” she says.

Yellow Patch is a mesmerising presentation of landscape and architecture through image and sound and the piece-de-resistance of the Whitechapel’s exhibition Zarina Bhimji which showcases 25 years of her work. The show (January 19 - March 9) includes previously unseen sketches, storyboards and lightboxes as well as photography, film and installation. Six years in the making, Yellow Patch is her second major film work, her first, Out of Blue having received huge critical appraise on its release in 2002.

Bhimji was born in Uganda to Indian parents in 1963. She moved to the UK in 1974 with her family when all Asian Ugandans were expelled from the country under dictator Idi Amin’s rule. She went on to study at Goldsmiths and the Slade School of Art in London and has exhibited in solo and group shows including at the Art Institute of Chicago (2009), Tate Liverpool (2007) and Haunch of Venison (2006).

Objects, architecture and landscapes feature as the protagonists in her work. Her photograph Memories Were Trapped Inside the Asphalt (2001-2006) depicts four shoes mounted on a wall from which a plug socket has been removed, exposing now useless wiring. Meanwhile, Bapa Closed His Heart, It Was Over (1998-2003) presents us with a broken window in the corner of a dark room through which a small aeroplane is visible standing on a runway outside in the sunshine. She told us that sound plays an important part in encouraging the viewer to interpret the images. “Sound is very universal, it is very poetic, you can express things without having to say too much, you leave the viewer to their own imagination.”

Many of the artist's large-scale photographs were taken while researching and traveling for her film works. She gives them notable titles such as Frightened Goats, This Unhinged Her and Illegal Sleep which are the personal connections provoked in her by the images. “I’m very inspired by painters," she says. "I love the work of Caspar David Friedrich, Constable and Richter - they've all been important to me, as has the influence of European cinema."

Zarina Bhimji will be at London's Whitechapel Gallery from January 19 until March 9, flick through the image gallery above to view a selection of works in the show. You can read more about her here.

Yellow Patch will premiere at the same time at The New Museum in Walsall (January 20 - April 14 2012). After its time at the Whitechapel, the Zurina Bhimji show tour to the Kunstmuseum Bern from June 1 until September 1 2012.


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