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The colourful life of artist Rana Begum

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Rana Begum is the latest artist in residence at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

Like any career, art can be stressful.

In the middle of an interview with The Royal Gazette, the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club’s latest artist in residence, Rana Begum, took a call. A client wanted her help, immediately, installing one of her abstract pieces.

Although she appreciated the client’s eagerness, it was not very easy to help them, given that they were several thousands of miles away.

“It can be hard to strike a work-life balance,” Ms Begum said, “You are working and thinking 24/7. And there is this assumption that you can be contacted at any time of the day or night.”

However, she loves the work, and also the travel. She has spent the last decade exhibiting her creations in diverse places such as Beirut, Lebanon, St Ives in Cornwall and Dubai, among other places. Now, she is in Bermuda for ten days as the artist in residence for the Hamilton Princess on Pitts Bay Road in Pembroke.

“They have given me a studio in one of the hotel rooms, so that I can paint while I am here,” she said. “I’m not really required to physically make any work but I like the idea of having a space and the chance to create.”

Several of her pieces are in the hotel’s permanent collection. There are two pieces in different spots on the ground floor and a series of etchings in a boardroom on the second floor.

Her work is also part of an exhibition, Simplicity of Form: Unfolding Abstraction, on from now until October 31 at the Bermuda National Gallery at City Hall in Hamilton.

The show features artwork loaned by the Green family, owners of the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club. Some of the world-famous abstract artists on display are Henri Matisse, Andy Warhol and Bridget Riley. Ms Begum also has a series of etchings in the exhibition called No 861. They are part of a colour experiment she did on high-end chine colle on Somerset and Canson Mi-Teintes paper.

Abstract artist Rana Begum at work (Photograph supplied)

If you don’t understand what it all means, that is OK. She will be giving a lecture at the BNG at City Hall, tonight.

“With abstract work, it is sometimes difficult to have a narrative,” she said. “People want to find ways to connect with what you are doing. So in my presentations I usually show the journey, the progression, or the kind of research approach I took with my work.”

Ms Begum lives in Hammersmith, London, where she lives above her studio.

“I love the area,” she said. “It is very diverse and there is every kind of restaurant you can imagine.”

Born in Bangladesh, Ms Begum moved to England with her parents when she was 8.

“I did not speak a word of English,” she said. “I would draw where I grew up and my family and my childhood. Everything I drew went up on the wall in the classroom. It became a good way to communicate.”

Her struggles with language were compounded by dyslexia, a learning difference that can make learning a second language difficult. The problem was not fully addressed until secondary school.

“Then I had to start from scratch and learn everything again, cat, glass, table …” she said. She found that she was a visual learner.

“I can't figure things out in my head, I have to look at them,” she said. “I think that is where the art side of things comes in for me.”

Casts by Rana Begum, can now be found on the ground floor of the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club (Photograph supplied)

She said that on one hand dyslexia might make you feel less confident but it could also open doors.

“It can help you look at the world in a way that no one else does,” she said. “I think that is incredible.”

In her foundation year in college in London, she was wowed by the possibilities of art.

“I could go into architecture, design, textiles, printmaking, sculpture or painting,” she said.

She chose abstract minimalism as her speciality after learning about artists such as Sol LeWitt, Frank Stella and Agnes Martin. Today her work is full of geometry and colour experimentation.

She graduated with an MFA from the Slade School of Fine Art in 2002 and has exhibited at Tate St Ives (2018) in Cornwall; Frieze Sculpture Park, London (2018); and The National Museum for Women in the Arts, Washington (2018).

A solo show of her work, Reflections on Colour and Form, recently closed at the Christea Roberts Gallery in London.

Wherever she goes in the world she tries to incorporate something from that culture into her art, such as roof tiles, netting, reflectors she found in the market or baskets.

She was elected to the Royal Academy in 2020 and co-curated the architectural section of the Royal Academy’s 2022 Summer Exhibition with architect Níall McLaughlin.

This was her first trip to Bermuda. She came with her husband, Steve Webb, 14-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter.

“I was quite nervous about coming here because I did not really know what to expect,” she said.

So far, she is loving it.

“People in Bermuda are so helpful,” she said. “We went to Woodys Restaurant in Sandys and got stuck there. We couldn’t get a taxi back. We said we would get the bus, but then we could not buy a ticket on the bus. A lady said here have some tickets. Oh my God, everyone is so lovely!”

They have also been surprised by the more sedate lifestyle in Bermuda, compared with hectic London.

“Sometimes in London it seems like everyone is working on a deadline and everyone is moving at such a speed,” she said. “My body has had to adjust to the slower pace in Bermuda.”

She and her family have also struggled with the August heat with temperatures nearing 90F.

“It was cold and wet in London when we left,” she said. “I went out for a run here and had to turn back because it was just too hot.”

While here, she has been fascinated by Bermuda roofs.

“They look like pyramids,” she said. “They work well with my own work which is very geometric and uses repetition and a lot of colour. I love how the roof catches the light.”

While she is on the island, she has a trip planned to visit a stone quarry to see how slate is cut.

“I am quite interested in that,” she said. “My partner, Steve Webb, is a structural engineer and works with stone a lot.”

She has done some watercolour work in Bermuda but does not yet know where the visit will lead, artistically.

An installation of Bangladesh baskets at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, England (Photograph by Ian Bartlett)

“I’ve got some things on paper that I want to explore on a larger scale,” she said. “I feel very inspired.”

Ms Begum’s lecture is tonight at the BNG. Doors open at 5.30pm and the lecture begins at 6pm. Tickets are $35 for BNG members and $50 for non-members.

Tickets can be purchased here.

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Published August 17, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated August 18, 2023 at 8:05 am)

The colourful life of artist Rana Begum

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