“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” Rumi
Between 1971 and 1979 Idi Amin's tyrannical despotism over Uganda killed an estimated 500,000 people. In addition many hundreds of thousands were forced to flee the country as refugees. At the age of eleven, British artist Zarina Bhimji was one of them.
“My sister and I had to suddenly flee leaving behind everything except two dresses and a cardigan. During the civil war in Uganda we had stayed indoors with curtains closed. I witnessed violence, shooting and death by Amin's military. We arrived in England not speaking any English."
Astonishingly, from these, to me, unimaginably horrific experiences, Zarina has crafted photographs and film installations of ravishing poetic beauty. It is deeply humbling to see the darkest and most violently abhorrent aspects of human nature transformed into something of exquisite grace through such profound and soulful investigation.
Zarina has travelled extensively across India, Zanzibar and East Africa, immersing herself in their ways and undertaking intense research into their overlapping histories. And yet the final works, film and photographs, exorcised of the human figure and of linear narrative, present surprisingly universal and seemingly apolitical journeys into the shared human experiences of love and loss.
The jewel in the crown of The Whitechapel's recently opened exhibition Zarina Bhimji is Yellow Patch (2011). Shot on location in India on 35mm, Yellow Patch was inspired by trade and migration across the Indian Ocean and is the second and latest film from the artist who was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2007. Loaded with the wisdom of wabi sabi, the melancholic but cathartic allure of decay, of lives lived and others still living, the film is overlaid with a powerfully elemental and haunting sound track: the echo of disembodied voices - crying, chanting, praying - thunder and driving rain, fires raging and crackling and birdsong, the voice of nature's daily life, startlingly but inevitably unperturbed by the catastrophe of humanity's annihilating bent.
Cool interiors, throbbing against the pungent equatorial heat, derelict and deserted, plaster crumbling from once grand, lofty ceilings, sunlight streaming in through wide open dark wood doors, delicately crafted furniture covered in the dust of colonies fallen to ruin, antlers from some long dead beast, lying, broken on the floor. The only movement, a spider's web snagged and swaying on a gentle breeze.
The absence of the human form leaves space for the viewer's own interpretations and projections, inviting us to open our hearts to the unknown, to traces and flickers of memory from personal tragedies, perhaps recalling what might have been as well as what was.
Disinterested by the grandiose, the sweeping epic drama of retrospectively overlaid stories, Zarina focuses instead upon the truth ensnared in the intimate detail, overlooked or ignored by the less discerning observer.
As well as Yellow Patch, also showing at The Whitechapel is Out of Blue, Zarina's first film, commissioned in 2002 by Documenta 11 and shot on Super 16, along with a selection of photographs, film stills and light boxes spanning the last twenty-five years. This is an exhibition you must see. It is an exhibition for the romantic, for the traveller, for those open to the beauty of pain and transformation. It is an exhibition for anyone who has ever loved and lost.
Written for and reproduced here by kind permission of Spoonfed