From painting and sculpture to architecture and design, artist Rana Begum’s colourful, multi-media works have won her both international acclaim and prestigious prizes. As part of our on-going series of Emel and Aris Pioneers, the London-based artist shares her inspiration, childhood memories and creative processes.
You never limit yourself to a singular medium or style. When beginning a project, how does your creative thought process start?
“I find that creative process has no boundaries. For me, different mediums are all connected through visual experience. Usually with a project I begin by considering the space in which the work will exist, whether a gallery or street installation. My creative process is also very hands-on. I have to work with materials and play to create new and interesting forms. I start by collecting materials I saw around me and placing them in the studio. Once I have that, a starting point and some materials to work with, ideas of how to push the work begin to flow.”
Do you actively seek creative inspiration or does it find you?
“I’d say it’s more that I seek time and space in which I can really think about the work, to assess and reflect on the direction its going. Having said that, I am constantly drawing inspiration from my surroundings, whether in London or elsewhere. I see things that will ignite an idea—and maybe I won’t act on it straight away—but it’s like these fragments of inspiration get stored away and then emerge when the work triggers them. I see the world in light, colour and form and these elements inspire the work and allow it to develop.”
What drew you to such a graphic, abstract aesthetic?
“I think it has a lot to do with removing the things that you are not interested in or that don’t come naturally, then distilling down what’s left into some form that you can relate to. For instance, I always had trouble with mixing colours by hand and so I started to look for new ways to introduce colour into my work. This started with coloured tapes and then I moved on to the block colours that are now synonymous with my work. There is something quite meditative about working in this way. My life is always so complicated so I feel the need for simplicity and purity. My work gives me these things.”
What do you try to communicate or evoke with your works?
“My works are attempting to evoke an awareness within the viewer. They are about a visual experience and how this experience can stir something much deeper and more emotional. They invite the viewer to contemplate and consider both how the works are made and also how they are interacting with the space in which they exist. The majority of my works require a certain level of interaction from the viewer. To achieve those moments of perfect alignment when everything suddenly seems to fall into place, it is necessary to engage with the work and the space, to notice the subtle shifts of light, colour and form. It is not simply a passive object.”
You received the Abraaj Group Art Prize in 2017 and created a commission for the Art Dubai art fair. Was it liberating having the budget to create something so incredible?
“Yes definitely! It was such an honour and a privilege to win this prize and a really amazing opportunity to do something ambitious and push my work. Of course, that was quite a daunting prospect too! The commission stemmed from a series of studies on MDF panels, which experiment with overlapping transparent colour planes. The Abraaj Group Prize afforded me the opportunity to push this exploration further and make it much more tangible through the use of glass.”
You moved from Bangladesh to London as a young girl, does your heritage inform your art, and if so, how?
“Yes very much so. I grew up wearing vibrant clothes, in a country that erupts with bright and bold hues. I have never lost this appreciation of colour and it manifests itself continually across my works. Similarly, there was a rhythm to my childhood as each day was punctuated with prayers and reading the Quran. This repetition of recitation has found its way into many of my works where modular elements are repeated in a potentially infinite pattern. And then of course there is the light. One of my strongest memories from my childhood is sitting in a small room in the local mosque. The room was flooded with dappled morning light and that, combined with the sound of a fountain and the recitation of the Quran left me feeling simultaneously calm and exhilarated. This combination—a simultaneous experience of calm and exhilaration—is what I try to capture in my work.”
Rather than being overloaded with subtext or theory, your work is simple, transformative and enhances the spaces it’s within. As such, you’ve had many public art commissions. Do you prefer seeing your work in urban spaces as opposed to a gallery?
“Absolutely. I am inspired by the city and what I see around me, so to situate the work in the spaces that it originates from is always very exciting and satisfying—it feels like it completes the circle. I like to see how the final piece will respond to its environment and vice versa. For instance the No.700 Reflectors at Kings Cross illustrates this very well. Here it has become an integrated part of the cityscape rather than a stand-alone artwork. It changes every day depending on the light and the number of people passing through the space.”
You’re preparing for a new show at Tate St Ives. What can visitors expect at this exhibition?
“I’m really excited as it’s a completely new series of works. I have come back from St Ives feeling very energised and inspired and I hope that this will show in the work. It is different, fresh and exciting but still, I hope, retains inherent qualities of reflective calm. I think people will be surprised by the work and that’s always interesting!”
Some of the pieces that will be showcased at Tate St Ives have a maritime and nautical theme, is it important for you to create works that have an intrinsic connection to the area in which they’re displayed?
“Yes sometimes this is very important, although I find that it’s crucial not to force this connection. I love it when it happens naturally, and sometimes it might not be immediate, but shows through the work. St Ives is known for having amazing light all year around, and I also felt a personal connection with its modernist collection. These core elements which are closely knit with considerations of light and form, a fundamental part of my practice, served as the foundation for the work created.”
What else do you have in store for 2018?
“Currently I am working on a solo show at Tate St Ives, A Conversation With Light and Form. My next is a residency with Bellas Artes Projects in the Philippines before taking part in an all-women group show at National Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington called Heavy Metal. Then, my show from Sainsbury Centre is touring to Djanogly Gallery in Nottingham and I also have my first show with my London gallery Kate MacGarry at Frieze.”
You can see Rana Begum’s work at:
Breaking Out of the Surface – The Origami Principle in Art
MARTa Herford, Germany
24th February – 3rd June 2018
A Conversation With Light and Form
Tate St Ives, Cornwall
19th May – 30th September 2018
Heavy Metal – Women to Watch
June – 30th September 2018
Space Colour Light
Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham
July – 30th September 2018
All images © Rana Begum Studio