Born in 1977 in Sylhet, Bangladesh, Rana Begum lives and works in London. Her paintings are mainly minimalist in nature. Begum draws inspiration from repetitive geometric patterns within Islamic art and architecture. Her works are full of colorful hard-edge lines and are coated with a thick glossy resin layer giving a reflective surface. The symmetry and rhythm of Begum’s work is unique and her most recent pieces use primarily dual or single color palettes.
Paddle8 had a chance to interview Begum and learn more about her daily inspirations, her upbringing and her recent works. Read the full Q & A below:
Paddle8: What specifically about your surrounding urban environment inspires your work? Can you describe a recent sighting or moment of inspiration?
Rana Begum: What I find inspiring is the way a city has so much going on visually which ever direction you look, constantly changing, forms appearing and disappearing. What I hope to create with my work is movement, an experience of walking through the city, of seeing the random sometimes make sense. My hope is that the work can almost be viewed as a lesson in seeing, because upon leaving the work, perhaps the viewer starts to see these moments around them, and notices anew the odd and often uncharacteristic glimpses of beauty that living in a city can provide. I recently saw an old kinetic billboard, which had broken down, and the colours on it were pastel blue and light grey and it looked just beautiful against this dark wall, I took a photo quickly as I was driving past. It made realise it is very similar to the colours that I am using in the studio.
P8:What are some of the artists and movements that directly influence your work and outlook on art making? Are the Bauhaus, Minimalist or Constructivist movements of particular interest to you?
RB: Artists such as Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd and Agnes Martin, a Canadian-American painter, were great early influences when I was still a student. I love what Agnes Martin can achieve just by using a simple grid. All three movements mentioned are still interesting for me as they brought out artists that still inspire me. Also Islamic art and architecture is a huge influence, for example I went to Spain to see the Moorish architecture; it was just absolutely beautiful and was a great inspiration. I find it really interesting that the works I am showing have an affinity with Islamic art, the idea of the infinite and the sublime is very present in my work.
P8:Can you speak about how your diasporic upbringing – born in Bangladesh, currently living and working in London – has influenced your work? How have the different urban environments shaped your work?
RB: When I moved to England from Bangladesh as a child, the language barrier meant that art was the way I could best express myself, the rest just seemed to follow naturally! At the time I did not realise, but I became more fascinated by form and colour. I grew up surrounded by vibrant sarees, salwar kameez and Bollywood films, that I guess is something that is ingrained me which is why I am always drawn to things visually.I am also fascinated by the vibrant colours and shapes that surround me, but not just in the city. The contrast between growing up in the countryside and then the city was huge visually so I guess I am trying to find a balance between the two in my work.
P8:Having shown extensively throughout Europe and India, can you discuss how your work is perceived differently (if at all) within diverse national contexts?
RB: I have shown in Europe a lot doing art fairs and group shows and now recently started working with a gallery in Cologne called Christian Lethert. My work seems to be doing well in Europe and I am very pleased with the positive response I have been getting, but I think the biggest surprise for me has been how well things are going for me in India. I have only done one group show and then recently a solo show in Mumbai at Jhaveri Contemporary. For me it was important because it is so close to where I am and my family are from and the fact that I am unknown out there and showing abstract art made it even more nerve-racking. Any how I think people were able to approach the work and can relate to it because of the physical connection they have to have with work, in order to view it in its entirety the viewer has to move through the space, they became part of the work, it is no longer abstract.
P8: Can you briefly speak about some of the recent commissions and public works you have done? Since the work is inspired by the urban environment and presented in this context, does that change your creative process from when making work for a gallery setting?
RB: I am currently working on a public art commission for Great Portland Estate, which is in the corner of Regent Street and Margret Street. The commission is on the facade of the building and it will be completed later this year. I am also short listed for other public art projects, one in Washington and another here. Its great to be able to imagine the work in a much larger scale, a scale you would not normally think of in the studio. It allows you to push the work and allows you to think about scale and materials. I also find it challenging and exciting as it is very different from the usual practice.