Words by Emily Steer.

Generally, we get so excited by the Whitechapel Gallery bookshop that we often forget why we went into the gallery in the first place, instead leaving laden with a library’s worth of books. Luckily this time, we had heard such good things about Zarina Bhimji’s 25 year spanning exhibition that we skipped the shop altogether and headed straight in to immerse ourselves amongst her eerily empty works. We’re not saying that the works lack substance, just that the lack of human bodies – a running theme throughout all of the works – creates a world so devoid of living presence that the spaces begin to take on a life of their own, suggestive of both past activity, and present void. This is visible the most in her occasional foray into film making, whereby she mixes lingering shots of desolate places and manmade structures with a soundtrack of babbling voices and musical suspense. Yellow Patch, her most recent film, features slow panning shots of Mumbai colonial offices, shot in a way that mixes both horror and romantic film styles; intensifying a space that is both deserted and calm. The previous violence is suggested only in slivers of brutal sound, and the sinister shots of a crumbling Queen Victoria statue, moving slowly from the floor, to reveal finally a smashed in, deformed face.

Out Of The Blue holds more obviously disruptive images, opening with lingering shots of beautiful landscapes that slowly become encased in flames. Although this film was made in reference to her own family’s political upheaval from Uganda, the works all stay universal enough to serve not only as a momento to a personal strife, but also to a general sense of upheaval and desolation.

The films appear as extended versions of Bhimji’s still images that focus on space, as well as what might have happened in that space before the photo was taken. The only evidence that humans were there are remnants of past actions: a vast stacks of logbooks, crumbling buildings and home spaces. The exhibitions entire lack of human presence makes the human glaringly present in their absence, and is suggestive of political impact, serving as a reminder of human goings on and how they can leave a trail of destruction. In turn the items featured take on a human character, still holding leftovers of life and activity. No Border Crossing is one of our favourites – a vast image of row upon row of paperwork reveals a sort of banality that covers up the lost hopes of past lives. Bhimji’s work in all it’s subtly will get any viewer’s mind racing. Thank god then for our favourite gallery bookshop, for a good pillaging at the end.

Zarina Bhimji is on until 9 March, for more information [click here]