ArtintheCity Speaks to Zarina Bhimji, a Recipient of Sharjah Art Foundation’s Production Programme
Back in November 2010, the Sharjah Art Foundation awarded $300,000 in grants awarded to three artists as part of their 2010 Production Programme, which was established in 2008 to support artists in the production of new work. These three artists were Bani Abidi, the artist collective CAMP, and Zarina Bhimji.
Zarina Bhimji was born in Uganda, and lives and works in London, and the artist is renowned for her poetic film works which are challenging and beautiful in equal measure. The grant money Bhimji received is being used to support her new film, Yellow Patch, which follows the journey from Gujarat to Uganda which was undertaken by her father when she was eleven. ArtintheCity spoke to Bhimji about her work and the importance of schemes like the Production Programme in contributing to the artistic community.
ArtintheCity: Your work grows primarily out of research but the resulting work is distanced from specific historical facts. Why do you feel it is necessary that the work has this distance from its origins? I feel that for me it allows the work to be viewed for the beauty it contains without being dragged down under references to perhaps troubled historical times, and also prevents the work becoming overly didactic, allowing the viewer to experience the work as they wish.
Zarina Bhimji: I lean toward a similar methodology where information and research become crucial aspects of my work. I would like to create a type of narrative that is not tied to a language but functions on a purely visual and sound level. A narrative that is non-literal, abstract, relies heavily on the viewer’s own imagination to draw meanings. I appreciate poetry, or visual language that is independent to the relationship to ones own culture.
AITC: In your current film ‘Yellow Patch’ there is a particularly personal connection to history as it will trace the route undertaken by your own father from Gujarat to Uganda. Do you think this will make it more challenging to maintain a distance, or lend the film an additional element through personal connection?
ZB: Research is central to my work. I have in the past used photographs of personal objects to explore question of identity and place. These were based on memory, dreams, conversations from East-African and Indian backgrounds.
What I want to communicate is complex and therefore the medium I use has to be able to speak to the viewer. it is essential for me to work in mixed media - photography, installation processes, film and written material are combined differently in each piece. When text is used aspects such as typeface, hand script, size and texture are considered as carefully as the image and treated through the medium of aesthetics.
Within the process of developing a piece of work I go through a rigorous paring of what is superfluous to arrive at a precise and contained form.
AITC: Previous films like ‘Waiting’ and ‘Out of the Blue’ have felt more like they were recording the passing of time than of distance. How are you finding tackling a geographical journey with this new work?
ZB: The geographical journey was my starting point when I first started to think about this work. In terms of “Yellow Patch” is difficult to say how this will turn out until the work is made. There are so many elements to bring together. I want to use my process as metaphors, since I am concerned with not imitating the dominant world but with recreating it through immediate/intuitive responses.
I am interested in the spaces, micro details and the light of these distant interiors. The locations are chosen because of light is an element of my composition and becomes just as intricate and important as having a figure in my work. The stillness has a suspension of everyday life and yet narrative is deferred by mood and mystery and incompleteness. So that atmosphere is tactile, moist light. When I was making “Waiting”, I went into the location spaces and I imagined it was like walking into a room for the first time so the whole structure was about being inside and never outside.
This project is about learning to listen to "difference", the difference in shadows, microcosms and sensitivity to difference in its various forms. Listening with the eyes, listening to changes in tone, difference of colour. It attempts to link similar disturbances that have taken place in Kosovo and Rwanda. The work is not a personal indulgence; it is about making sense through the medium of aesthetics. It is a question that is close to my heart since the significant ethical issues have a resonance for me. I want to register these issues, to mark has what has happened; elimination, extermination and erasure. Within the broader questions of difference an important part of the project would be the possibility of creative difference. Such a combination of personal and public aspects holds a particular resonance at the start of 21st century.
AITC: Can you tell me about the role of sound in this current project ‘Yellow Patch’ and about the way you approach using sound in your films? Is this something you are actively involved in creating yourself or does it come about from collaboration? In ‘Out of Blue’ it has a particularly powerful affect recalling Uganda’s history and lending an intensely haunting atmosphere to the derelict architectural interiors.
ZB: My work investigates social, political and psychological and aesthetic conditions. I explore ways to infuse deeply personal, emotional and philosophical subjects with important social-political and historical realties. I use India and Africa as an open-air studio.
I record sounds, I gather sounds from archives and I am interested in sounds that are not tied to language. The sonic works on a universal level. There is a unique relationship between the sound that is to do with internal and the close association of voice and speech that adds potency and magical powers.
AITC: Many of the shots, both photographic and filmed, have a very painterly feel, lingering on surface and texture. What is it that draws you most to film as your medium?
ZB: I like film because it can hover in a space like a painting. It can also work as in a sculptural and installation form. It is intimate and tender. I like to work with light, the sounds of rain, the sound of mosquitoes.
Sound is very important in my work. I learnt about sound because I am interested in a culture that is untouched by writing, it is all about orality. I also kept imagining what is it like to be blind. I like to build soundscapes as I am interest the rhythm of music, the feeling of tenderness is embedded. I am always recording sounds, thinking about sounds like for example sounds of elephants crying, peacock sounds and their metaphors. The sounds and picture will work as layers of grief, tensions claustrophobia, etc.
AITC: Finally I would just like to know your thoughts on the importance of grant schemes like the Sharjah Production Programme, and the commissioning of works for Biennials and so on. Why is it essential that both private and public institutions lend this support to artists?
ZB: This type of support, when contributed on a meaningful scale and in a sympathetic way, enables you to make work that is not about the dominant discourse. It enables risk taking. For myself this is what the Paul Hamlyn Award or and Documenta 11 enabled in my work.
Find out more about Zarina Bhimji and watch some selected films at www.zarinabhimji.com.