Zarina Bhimji (b. 1963, Mbarara, Uganda) trained in London at Goldsmiths College (1983 - 86) and The Slade School of Fine Art (1987 - 89). Her work has been shown extensively in both the UK and abroad. Her solo shows include Whitechapel Gallery, London (2012); The New Gallery, Walsall (2012); Kunstmuseum Bern, (2012); Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (2009); Art Institute of Chicago, (2009); Haunch of Venison, Zurich, (2007); Matrix, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut (2003); Art Now, Tate Britain, London (2003); Talwar Gallery, New York (2001); and Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (1992). Bhimji’s work is included in the collections of many major international museums and private collections including Tate, UK; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, USA; Moderna Museet, Sweden; and Kadist Art Foundation, Paris, France.
After decades of British rule, it was only fifty years ago that East African countries began to gain their independence. In the British artist Zarina Bhimji’s (b. 1963) film installations, she explores the social, political, and psychological effects of colonialism by pointing her lens at its visual history and the aesthetic ramifications of the era. Bhimji’s interest in East Africa is not solely, or at all, intellectual. When her father was eleven years old, he moved to Uganda from Gujarat, India, to make ghee, a type of clarified butter used in Indian cooking. There, he entered into an existing service economy that worked to support the cultural needs of the burgeoning Indian population, many of whom had originally come to build the Ugandan railway at the end of the nineteenth century.
It is this colonial landscape and its remnants that pervade the ethos of much of Bhimji’s work, including her installation for P.3, Waiting. Although invisible in her film, it still accompanies it like a melodic theme. Zarina Bhimji visited sisal-processing factories near Mombasa, Kenya, some of which originate from colonial times. The beauty of the architecture, the bright, hot light and the simultaneously quasi-paralyzing atmosphere together with the minute movements and the sensitive details of the colors, the walls and the utensils, focus the viewer’s gaze on the beauty of the material. Introduced by the Germans to the German colonies in East Africa in the 1890s and still grown on the plantations today, the material is used for ropes, cords, sacks, and carpets. The beauty of the sisal’s texture conjures up memories of hair, lending life to the material that takes on an abstract quality.