Rana Begum, No. 473, 2014. Commissioned and produced by the Samdani Art Foundation for the Dhaka Art Summit 2014. Courtesy of the artist, the Dhaka Art Summit, the Samdani Art Foundation and Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai.
Belonging to the second generation of artists who turned Minimalism into something completely theirs, Rana Begum claims Donald Judd, Agnes Martin, sacred geometry in Sufism, and Islamic art and architecture as her influences. To this, she adds cues gathered from built and urban environments – from noticing patterns of colour, line and form as they collide in a city. A relatively new influence to her work was visiting the Cathedral-Mosque in Cordoba, Spain in 2008/2009. The spiritual experience from the repetition of arches and domes has been an inspiration for her recent work.
Begum’s work becomes something new with every shift of light. Reflecting on the work, the artist shares that “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.” The bright colour palette that is characteristic of Begum’s work reflects the rich visual culture of South Asia, and these colours blend into one another in unique ways through the folds and shadows that the artist creates with her sculptures. While many female artists in the region are known for their use of organic materials and feminine craft, Begum masters the “masculine art” of working with metal, defying the norms that her conservative Islamic background imparted on her. However, the geometric lines and repletion used in traditional Islamic arts have influenced the precision and purity of Begum’s practice.
Folds and bending are important facets of Begum’s works. She folds paper and even thin aluminium sheets into forms that are reminiscent of kites, with a sense of lightness that gives the feeling that a gust of wind could blow the sculptures away. Her recent body of work blends into the wall with the new use of white as a base, with glowing colours in the background that seem to radiate in the space between the sculpture and the wall. The illusion that light can create is something Begum has mastered over the years with increasing sophistication. Elaborating on her current work, Begum shares that it “is mainly fabricated from powder-coated and painted metal extruded sections. The language these materials use is at first inspection one of mass production. But then as the complexity of pattern that flows across these linear hard-edged forms is made visible, something far subtler is revealed.”
In her first major exhibition in Dhaka, Begum moves away from surface ideas of mass-production and brings focus to the handmade. Begum revisits her childhood fascination with basket weaving, an activity she enjoyed when growing up in Bangladesh, and which also uses a similar process of bending and folding that she is known for. For Begum, the idea of architecture evokes memories of reading the Koran in Bangladesh and watching simple streams of light seeping in through the windows of the mosque. Using these vivid childhood memories as inspiration, Begum transforms the Shilpakala Academy with over a thousand locally woven baskets, which she weaves together to create a monumental sculptural dome that references light in the Koran. The work immerses the viewer in an innovative play between light and shadow. The complex intricate pattern creates a weightless and contemplative space through repetition.
Begum was born in Sylhet, Bangladesh in 1977 and moved to England in 1985. The artist studied at the Slade School of Fine Art and the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London where she currently lives and works. She has exhibited extensively internationally including exhibitions in the UK, the USA, Mumbai, Beirut, and Dubai, and she was the recipient of the 2012 Jack Goldhill Award for Sculpture at the Royal Academy of Arts and nominated for the Jameel Prize at the V&A in 2010. She has created numerous public art interventions all over the globe, transforming cityscapes with her unique use of colour and light. She was also a past Delfina Foundation resident artist.