Zarina Bhimji's artwork on display at the Talwar Gallery in Manhattan is a rich exploration in history and perception, a thin line between fact and fiction as the artist herself puts it and compelling with its strong metaphorical statements.
Of the 13 pieces on display and sale at the exhibition titled Cleaning the Garden, three are four 18th century newspaper text etched mirrors, four Cibachrome transparency lightbox, and five Cibachrome on aluminum works. The theme is an exploration of formal gardens in Britain and Spain as cultural metaphors and personal embodiments. This is the first solo show in the US for the Uganda-born Zhaveri, who is based in London: Specialising in photography, she is the winner of numerous awards and is critically acclaimed in Europe for carving indelible memories with her works on the persecution of women during the Idi Amin regime. Bhimji's works are also strong testaments to her Indian roots.
One of the newspaper text etched mirrors is the reprint of an advertisement of the running away of a 14-year-old finale slave of Indian origin, a native of Bengal, from an estate in England. One reads the advertisement, sees oneself in the mirror, and simultaneously sees the work reflected on the wall behind a large landscape of a forest. It is a subtle and excellent metaphor for the plight of the boy who is lost in the wilderness of the world. The sense of loss combined with the thrill of a newfound freedom is beautifully captured. The evocation of loneliness and despair is a recurring theme in the works displayed. The gardens captured on camera- a carefully organized world and also in appalling disarray - is devoid of people. Yet, it has a sense of an invisible power, of a presence that is unseen to us but hovers and spreads in all directions even as one walks through the gallery.
The most powerful image of this is in the work titled Female Government. It is hard to fathom looking at the photograph if it was deliberate or not, placing utensils and flowers pots together is presumably a shed or garage, by some woman who left in a hurry or maybe because someone died in the house. The work has the touch of fragility to it. If lingers on long after one has walked away from it.
The work titled Alcazar takes one back to the days of the zenana and the purdah. Then there is a work titled Harsh Pubic Hair that captivates with its luminosity and intensity. The image itself is ambiguous.
But there is no mistaking the vibrant colors. Hair, tinged with silver steel, spring in bunches from beneath a crumpled black velvety muslin cloth, with clusters of red blossoms, like little fires flaring from a dark forest, scattered on the huge 34 1/2 x41 3/8 x 6 1/8 frame.
Deepak Talwar, the director of the new gallery, is a banker turned art-lover. "When I saw the city starved of art and aesthetics, I knew I hard to do something," says Talwar, a graduate of St. Stephen's in Delhi. The exhibition will be on view through October 27.