Exclusive Interview With The 2017 Abraaj Group Art Prize Winner, Rana Begum

In Conversation with Rana Begum

Artist Rana Begum gives an overview of her artistic practice, and reveals her personal aspirations for the Abraaj Group Art Prize 2017. Begum’s ambitious new commission, realised through the $100,000 award, will be unveiled to the public at Art Dubai on 15 March 2017.

Art Dubai: What does it mean to you, to have been chosen as the winner of the Abraaj Group Art Prize 2017?

Rana Begum: It is such an incredible honour, to be honest it still hasn’t really sunk in that my proposal has been selected. I don’t think it will fully until I start working on the project!  For me the most exciting thing about winning the Abraaj Prize is the fact that it will allow me to push my work further than I have ever done before.

AD: What drew you to participate? Do you have any hopes about how this opportunity might affect your career?

RB: It felt like the right to time to apply in regards to where my work is – I feel I have reached a level of confidence now which allows me to take risks and do something really ambitious. This unique opportunity that the prize offers provides the chance for me to really progress with my work.

AD: How did developing this proposal differ to your usual way of working?

RB: The proposal evolved from a series of works which I have been pushing since 2011. This series stemmed from the bar works where you experience two colours interacting to create a third layer of colour and form. I have been striving to make that interaction more physical and tangible though my series of paintings on MDF. For the Abraaj Group Art Prize I knew that the paintings were not testing the limits of my practice enough – I felt a need for the painting to come to life and become physical themselves, to engage more fully with the viewer. The Prize gives me the perfect opportunity to develop this strand of work in that way.

AD: Without giving too much away, can you give us a hint of what we could expect to see with your commission next year?

RB: It’s about immersion in colour and form.

AD: What role do you think that art prizes play within the arts sector? What do they offer, or why are they attractive, to artists?

RB: For me their most vital role is providing artists with the opportunity to produce something on a completely different scale, something that you can’t create yourself without the support of an institute or gallery. They also allow artists to receive international exposure outside their home city and are an excellent way of ensuring that they are really pushing their practice – they encourage innovation and new ways of thinking.

AD: Would you say that a prize which represents MENASA, is particularly important?

RB: As a female artist from Bangladesh I often feel as though I am fighting an uphill battle – the odds were stacked against me in terms of me becoming a successful artist. Prizes like the Abraaj Group Art Prize offer encouragement for people like me that there truly is hope for their creative ambitions.

AD: Please tell us about your artistic background – when did you first start practicing?

RB: Growing up I expressed my creativity through representational art. It provided a means of communication at school when I first arrived in the UK without being able to speak English. However, I was introduced to works of Agnes Martin, Judd, Sol Lewitt and Frank Stella during my Foundation course and was instantly drawn to their minimal approach. A longing to distill and create something pure took hold and everything was stripped back in my work. Returning to basics in this way afforded me a far greater understanding of abstract art and provided a far richer means of expression.

AD: You are originally from Bangladesh, and your studio is in London. Would you say either of these places, or your heritage, has an influence on your work?

RB: They both have had a huge influence on my work.  A recent installation I created for the Dhaka Art Summit played with my childhood memories of growing up in Bangladesh – the experience of light, rice fields, water – all embedded in my memory.  The latest installation at Parasol Unit was a progression from that but also dealt with where I am currently living and working – an urban environment of constant change where elements are in flux, shifting, disappearing and re-appearing like building blocks. However, I also love travelling for work. I get a lot of my inspiration from visiting new cities, which you can see from my Instagram account.

AD: You recently presented a solo show at Parasol Unit that was a great success. How will this new commission relate to the survey of works shown in London?

RB: The show at Parasol Unit comprises of works from the last 15 years and a new body of work. By spanning the breadth of my artistic career, this exhibition clearly demonstrated the evolution of my practice and my in-depth research of light and geometry. I remain captivated by the way natural light interacts with the work throughout the day, transforming it and creating an experience, which is both temporal and sensorial. I have spent a number of years researching the complexities of colour and how it reacts with this light. By combining this understanding of colour, light and geometry, I reached the distilled language that will be seen in my new commission for the Abraaj Group Art Prize. I am excited by the manner in which this proposal embodies these two research periods in the most natural way possible.

AD: Do you have other projects or exhibitions coming up that you can tell us about?

RB: I would really like to make some time to focus on the next stage of my work. I am currently participating in the Gwangju Biennale 2016 curated by Maria Lind, and then taking part in group show at MRAC (Musée Régional d’Art Contemporian) and Gemeentemuseum Den Haag to commemorate of Sol Lewitt. I am also working towards a project at Yorkshire Sculpture Park for their 40th anniversary and Kettles Yard.  I am completing a few commissions this year – one in Ohio for Cleveland Clinic, one in Westgate Oxford and another at Kings Cross Station in London, which will be unveiled early November.