EUDON CHOI UNCOVERS / RANA BEGUM
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Minimalist, abstract and constructivist artist | @ranabegumstudioUncovered: Rana Begum
Minimalist, abstract and constructivist artist, Rana Begum uses the subtlety of light and colours to introduce new dimensions to her work. Overcoming her initial obstacles, Rana has come a long way. Amidst the transitional journey between cultures and expectations, she found a comfort of expression in art. Balancing work and personal life, simplicity seems to be her antidote.
On getting into visual arts…
I started at an early age when I first came to the UK from Bangladesh. I was eight and couldn't speak any English. At school, it was really difficult to communicate so I was given pen, paper and lots of colouring pencils. I spent most of my time drawing; it was my way to express the different aspects of my life, like where I lived, how many siblings I had, etc. At that time, I had no idea that I was any good at it, I didn't even know what art was but everything I drew went up on the walls so I assumed I was good at it. However, a career in the arts isn’t something that was recognised or supported by my family. I think there was a cultural idea that you should follow secure career paths that would give you financial stability. Or, if you are a girl, you should have an arranged marriage.
Even though I did well in my A-level my parents still wanted me to have an arranged marriage. I wanted to study and break away from this system. It took a lot of convincing from my art teachers and uncle to change my dad’s mind and let me pursue a future in art.
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On finding the right form of expression...
I started off as a figurative artist, but it didn't come naturally. When I was introduced to minimalist, abstract and constructivist art, I went back to my work and started dissecting it and pulling it apart. I made a list of things that I was interested in and I realised it wasn't the figure, it was the way light played a part, or light affected the form or space. I was constantly trying to find ways to capture that change. I also realised that I wasn’t interested in a particular discipline, either painting, sculpture or architecture. I was always more interested in the idea - the thing I wanted to capture, the question I wanted to answer, or the experience I wanted to create. I then would attempt to find a means to realise this idea, letting the work to travel in multiple directions and take different forms.
My mum taught me resilience and my dad, hard work. My father really inspired me in general. His parents died when he was young, so he became responsible for his sisters and had to get several jobs. I think I get my drive and passion from him. But in general, I'm inspired by my surroundings and by how light affects it. The reason why light is a prominent element in my work is because it brings change into the work itself. My work is not kinetic, it's static - sometimes it's three dimensional, sometimes it's two - but it's light that brings change into the work, depending on the day, the time, the month. It's that subtle change that I'm excited by.
I also love colours, having grown up around lots of saris, kameez and Bollywood movies. Although I wasn't confident using colour at the start, I didn't decide to take a theoretical approach to understanding it because I'm dyslexic. I spent years researching colour in a practical way. I learnt that it’s all about instinct and feeling confident in how you want to portray the colour.
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On a place to live and work…
I grew up in St Albans, Hertfordshire and went to university in London. I love the city. I think I’m drawn to big cities because of the activity and the constant changes. Wherever you go, whether it's Bangkok, Beirut, New York, or LA, things are constantly shifting and changing in front of you. My house/studio is in Hackney, an area I love because it's so multicultural. I can't go out the door without bumping into someone but I love this small village atmosphere. I feel very fortunate to be living in a location like this. My home and studio is designed by architect, Peter Culley, from the Spatial Affairs Bureau. He spent a long time observing how I work and how I try to create a work life balance. He was able to bring light into the building in clever and fun ways - which was a big part of the brief.
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My life is complex, so simplicity and minimalism are what I'm striving for in my work. I think since I'm unable to achieve it in my life, it comes out in my work. There is a contrast between the vibrancy and loud boldness, and something that, as you move through the space, is calm and contemplative.
I’m trying to achieve that balance in my life, but I realised that I have an obsessive addictive tendency within me. For instance, with my work, I forget that I need to eat, take care of my children, or have a break. When I'm into it, I sometimes just can't stop. So I've learned to try - particularly for my mental health - things that help me release the tension and obsessiveness I have in my work. I used to run a lot, around twice a day, but I had an injury. So I needed to find something different and that's when I started swimming. I can't really swim very well but I love it, especially outdoors. I began going to the reservoir and it's just incredible – the cold water is addictive.
As I'm getting older, I think there's a part of me that's craving a certain kind of calmness. I think my home and studio brings that to me.
Everything that's happened has been unexpected. The basket installation was a piece of work that really opened doors for me. It was probably my breakthrough. I'm looking forward to seeing where my work takes me. I don't really like to think of having a target or goal. I just want to make sure that the projects I propose make people more aware of their senses and surroundings.
The projects that I have coming up in the next few years are quite ambitious; they are going to not only challenge the way I work, but also how I deal with larger scales. There are a few projects in the US, one is with the Boston Fine Art Museum and the others I can't say much about, but two of them are going to be massive and are going to change things.