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The weightlessness of Rana Begum's alchemy of light, colour and material

London-based artist Rana Begum speaks to STIR about her recently concluded solo exhibition at Jhaveri Contemporary in Mumbai, India.

by Sukanya Garg Nov 26, 2019

Rana Begum’s latest solo exhibition at Jhaveri Contemporary in Mumbai presented the London-based artist’s exploration of colour, light, and surfaces. The gallery, which has wall-sized windows overlooking the Gateway of India, sunlight filtering through each one of them, further illuminated Begum’s already ethereal works, creating the perfect natural-architectural-artistic concoction.

Artist Rana Begum | STIRworld
Artist Rana Begum Image Credit: Maisha Hossain

The show featured works in marble, concrete, plaster foil, fishing net and spray paint, the interplay between them creating a sense of weightlessness, albeit an incandescent one in neon.

While Begum has been fascinated with form for years, there is a formlessness in some of the works in her show. The works in foil, their creases almost seem to mimic the motion of the waves that flow just outside of the gallery space, transporting the viewer into a realm beyond the senses.

Rana Begum, No.897 Casts, 2019, Jesmonite, H165 x W146 x D4 | Rana Begum | STIRworld
Rana Begum, No.897 Casts, 2019, Jesmonite, H165 x W146 x D4 Image Credit: Courtesy of the artist and Jhaveri Contemporary

Here, in conversation with STIR, the Bangladesh-born artist talks about her third show in India - the recently concluded exhibition in Mumbai - where she created environments that released materials from behaving the way we expect them to.

Sukanya Garg (SG): While light is essential to viewing a work of art, when did you seriously start contemplating the interaction between light, colour and perception?

Rana Begum (RB): This didn’t happen until 2008-9. My initial focus or research was on specific elements like light and form and then colour. It was only later I felt confident enough to bring those things together. It was a natural progression in the work.

Rana Begum, No.938 Folded Grid, 2019, spray paint on foil, H30 x W25 cm | Rana Begum | STIRworld
Rana Begum, No.938 Folded Grid, 2019, spray paint on foil, H30 x W25 cm Image Credit: Courtesy of the artist and Jhaveri Contemporary

SG: What kind of discoveries about light and colour have you made in the process of making work?

RB: The biggest surprise was how much light affects colour or how light allows colour to spread beyond its boundaries and that’s when the colour mixing is happening.

The works by Rana Begum, installation view 1 | Rana Begum | STIRworld
The works by Rana Begum, installation view 1 Image Credit: Mohammed Chiba, courtesy of Jhaveri Contemporary

SG: How has it changed your work or how did you incorporate the same in your latest exhibition at Jhaveri Contemporary? 

RB: The interest in those elements is ingrained but what drew me in, in the show at Jhaveri Contemporary, is focusing on how light affects the different surfaces. That’s when I realised that even though I am using different materials, light and colour connected these pieces together.  

Rana Begum, No. 882 Floats, 2019, Marble, H115 x W60 x D60 cm | Rana Begum | STIRworld
Rana Begum, No. 882 Floats, 2019, Marble, H115 x W60 x D60 cm Image Credit: Courtesy of the artist and Jhaveri Contemporary

SG: Your works seem to evoke a direct link between light and light-weightedness? How do you achieve this result/aesthetic?

RB: I have found my work works for me when there are dual experiences, where the work looks light but is actually incredibly heavy and completely opposite to what they represent like the float series. I think this need to experience the work is what makes me look at material and think about space. 

  • Rana Begum’s works on display at Jhaveri Contemporary | Rana Begum | STIRworld
    Rana Begum’s works on display at Jhaveri Contemporary Image Credit: Mohammed Chiba, courtesy of Jhaveri Contemporary
  • The works by Rana Begum, installation view 2 | Rana Begum | STIRworld
    The works by Rana Begum, installation view 2 Image Credit: Mohammed Chiba, courtesy of Jhaveri Contemporary

SG: The material you use to make the marble sculptures lies in sharp contrast to the final rendition of the work. Could you talk about your technique and process? 

RB: The marble pieces started off as plaster during my residency at Tate St Ives and the focus was then on light and form. It was later that I wanted to introduce colour into the work, was thinking about material and how there could be subtle colour. I usually like to take my time to develop a body of work and it usually starts with a focus on a particular element more than on others. 

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About Author

Sukanya Garg

Sukanya Garg

Garg is an artist and writer with a Master's degree in Public Policy from Duke University, USA. She has been involved in research, planning and execution of gallery exhibitions and external projects in collaboration with curators. Her writing has been published in several art magazines, journals and as part of curatorial notes and catalogues, and her work has been showcased at multiple exhibitions.

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