Artist Talk

An Investigation of Place

Rana Begum

London-based multi-media artist Rana Begum currently has several works on display in Bermuda: No. 861, a series of etchings in Simplicity of Form: Unfolding Abstraction at BNG, and two sculptures which have recently been installed at the Hamilton Princess HotelNo. 847, a folded grid in Jesmonite, and No. 1029, paint on powder-coated aluminium.

Her work, which explores the interplay of light on colour, is inspired by the geometric patterns of both the Islamic art and architecture that shaped her early childhood in Bangladesh and those found in British urban spaces. Citing Ellsworth Kelly, Sol LeWitt, and both Josef and Anni Albers as inspiration, her practice bridges painting, sculpture, architecture and design in a contemplation on the relationship between light, material, form, colour and space.

She was elected to the Royal Academy in 2019 and has exhibited at Frieze Sculpture Park, London (2018) and the National Museum for Women in the Arts, Washington, DC (2018). A solo show of her work, Reflection on Colour and Form, recently closed at the Cristea Roberts Gallery, London.

Top: Rana Begum photographed by Angus Mill.
Above: No. 861 by Rana Begum on display in Simplicity of Form: Unfolding Abstraction. Etchings with chine colle on Somerset and Canson Mi-Teintes paper, 2018. Edition 8/20. Collection of the Green family.

In August, Rana will take part in the Hamilton Princess Artist in Residence (AIR) Programme where she will create a piece of original art for the hotel, inspired by the resort and the islands of Bermuda. On August 17, she will be hosting a talk at the Bermuda National Gallery where she will be discussing her practice and how the island has influenced her work during her stay.

We caught up the artist as she prepares for her Bermuda residency, to discuss the importance of honesty and simplicity in her work, how residencies help push her to a fresh perspective and engage in conversations, and the ways in which she attempts to capture the very essence of a place.

BNG: You have cited the American Minimalists amongst your inspirations. In Simplicity of Form: Unfolding Abstraction, your work No. 861 is hung alongside works by Kenneth Noland and Frank Stella.  In what ways have artists such as these influenced your practice?

RB: I’ve been inspired by their approach to geometry, form and colour. There is a purity and honesty in the way material and form is used. I am constantly aspiring to keep this honesty and simplicity in my work, nothing is disguised and as you get closer to the work the process and material is revealed.   

No. 1029 by Rana Begum. Paint on powder-coated aluminium.
Collection of the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club.

BNG: You often use geometry and repetition as a means of investigating the relationship between light, form and colour. How do these two artistic devices allow for such a wide-ranging exploration?

RB: Repetition and geometry allow me to explore the idea of the infinite, considering how a work can grow in a space. I have always been fascinated by scale and how it can transform a work, pushing me to think about material and the work’s relationship with the body.  There is a constant dialogue between the material and its impact on scale – and vice versa. 

I have always found the act of repetition calming, reminding me of reciting the Qur’an in the mosque when growing up. The rhythmic experience becomes meditative, allowing me to really focus on the how light, colour and form interact.

No. 847 by Rana Begum. Folded grid in Jesmonite.
Collection of the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club.

BNG: Your practice is very much rooted in an investigation of place. You moved to London from Bangladesh when you were eight years old and the influence of these two contrasting cultures, and cities, frames your work. You have also completed residencies in countries as wide ranging as Italy, Lebanon, the Philippines and Thailand. In what ways does place affect your work and how do you capture it?

RB: Residencies have been a fantastic way to break my rhythm and push my work through a fresh perspective.  I always have an idea of what I might do on a residency, either looking at drawing, colour or a combination. But, despite this initial intention, I have found myself being directed by the experience of a place.

Residencies force you to be open to things happening in your work and engage in conversations. You are constantly observing and absorbing, your senses are heightened when you are visiting a new place.

When I am taken out of my normal routine and day to day distractions and responsibilities, I become able to re-engage with my surrounding and take in the light, atmosphere, smell and temperature. It all has an effect. During a residency I am trying to capture the impact of this experience, to create something tangible that captures the essence of place.

Rana Begum photographed by Angus Mill.

BNG: Bermuda has a long history of artists – from the American Impressionists onwards – visiting the island to capture the unique quality of light here. What do you hope to gain from your Artist Residency at the Hamilton Princess?

RB: I hope my trip to Bermuda will give me an opportunity to reflect and think about my work.  I’m hoping it’s an opportunity to push my work through drawing and painting and feel inspired by the light.  Essentially, I want to be inspired by the light and make the most of having a sustained period to focus, reflect and have conversations.

Rana Begum will be hosting a talk at the Bermuda National Gallery on Thursday, August 17. Click here to register. Tickets are $35 for BNG members and $50 for non-members.