Monday, 13 February 2012

Zarina Bhimji

Zarina Bhimji   The OCA study day 11th Feb 2012

There were a number of disparate components to this exhibition, photographs and video from different works the artist has worked on. I will return to the print images later, but first wanted to describe my feelings in respect to the two video installations. The first Out of Blue and the second Yellow Patch .

The video’s were shown in a darkened room and I wrote my thoughts down, there was no chance to see the words as I wrote, I alinged my pencil to my thumb and wrote without looking at the paper. To make a new note I moved my thumb down the paper. My notes verbatim are as below and attached as a scan from my notebook.

Cleansing – fire


exterior light and sound

loss and pain

                           evidence of people


shadow of people

time passing

     of places where we were

Silent embers

becoming more desolate

birds/chickens..  cockerel crowing

& then death, what was

left behind

re-birth of the land

old airport at point of departure

the cross and bullet holes

Spider’s web simile with fencing


Apart from inadvertently writing one note directly over another, I was quite please that the notes were largely legible!

To explain my feelings about the video against each note would take a long time. So I won't begin to. Rather I think what I would like to say is that this piece is a tremendously evocative work about loss, about an exorcism of a part of the artists life. It could have been anywhere, it was set in Uganda as that is where Bhimji was when Amin's thugs enforced the no-Asian policy. The images were very clear to me, despite an unsettling opening where I had heard from the member of the gallery who said something like "fire is used (in, I suppose Uganda here) as part of the process of recycle, returning fertility back to the ground. I wasn't close to the speaker so may have misheard. The use of fire as an allegory here was for me, about cleansing, about ridding the country of vermin, of unwanted parasites. Ethnic cleansing. Maybe this would leave the country purer and more ready for growth, maybe that was it? Hitler had tried it, so had Mussolini, Milosovic, Pol Pot, Mao, the Hutu and Tutsi continuing nightmare have only succeeded in the slaughter of millions. I was moved to see later in the video a shot of some embers. I wrote "silent embers" as I saw in them that despite the fury of the flames that maybe there was still something left in the country that had an imprint of the peoples who had been "cleansed away".
There was pain in most of the images, we were left to linger on many scenes that had the haunted voice of a once present people; in the dilapidated buildings we saw the fleeting shadows of people moving, were they the ghosts of a people now displaced? The echoes of peoples also reverberated in and around the empty shells of dwellings that maybe once housed these now refugees in another country in another continent in another climate.
We were left to dwell on the graves of people of whom we would never know who they were, and what they represented, were they long dead relatives of people who would probably never have the chance to revisit and pay their respects?
The last scenes of the film were the most painful, Entebbe airport, bullet ridden with the imagery of the "cross" and shot through, pierced glass windows. And when one is leaving , the view that is the most painful, the one that pulls hardest at the heart is the one looking back. Looking back to something one knows is lost forever. The shot that these refugees all had in common as they fled the tyranny of  a military despot; the image of their home from the back of an aeroplane ripping them apart from their life they had thought was the escape from poverty they left in India a generation before.

And then they arrive in Bradford, in Sheffield, in Wembley and Whitechapel............. which is where we come in............


Yellow Patch (no translation)

Whilst I found this more beautiful, I found the imagery less powerful. Maybe this was because it wasn't about personal loss, about the transgressions to the authors family, people and past. Rather it was a gentler, almost an homage, to a time when two continents were connected by trade and this film focussed on the route within India; from Bombay (now Mumbai) through to Gujurat. There was loss depicted in this film, but there was also love and hope. I particularly enjoyed the chisel marks on the marble sculpture which panned out to the disfigured face of the only Empress of India, whose effigy can be found in all corners of the sub-continent, both in the physical form of statues and paintings, but also in the metaphorical form of the Raj which led the bureaucratic structures of the rail system and the dock authorities to produce, and still produces to this day, the mountains of paperwork depicted in the opening shots of the film. The evocation of the dusty remnants of a system buried in the past, to a time forgotten and almost frozen like "Satis House". Refusing to move on is I am afraid very reminiscent of India today in parts.
It didn't condemn the subject, but confine it to a idiosyncratic position at the end of an age where the past was provided to the viewer in so many ways. The long grey plait, the aged desert holding remnants of the past in the imprints fixed in the dried mud.

I will watch both again; I will talk about the photography in a later entry.

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