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BNG show among the best in 30 years

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Versatile artist: Charles Zuill was impressed by Rana Begum, whose art is now on exhibit at the Bermuda National Gallery (Photograph by Angus Mill)

Over the past 30-odd years since the opening of the Bermuda National Gallery to the public, it has hosted a significant number of important exhibitions. The BNG’s present exhibition, Simplicity of Form: Unfolding Abstraction, is certainly among the best.

Considering all the many excellent exhibitions, I do not recall any that conveyed to me quite so much joy as this show.

Barnett Newman, the renowned New York abstract expressionist, said that the impulse of modern art is the desire to destroy beauty, but if that is the case, the artists in this show were not listening. The success of this exhibition is owing in large part to its considerable beauty.

Credit must also go to the way the curator, Eve Godet Thomas, has put the show together. It is not too spare, nor is it too crowded. The exhibition has an easy flow; it is one smart-looking show.

The exhibition is a selection of works from the Green family collection, including a Hamilton Princess & Beach Club artist-in-residence, Rana Begum. She is the focus of this review.

As an adjunct to this exhibition, the BNG hosted a talk she gave on August 17.

I have to admit, while most of the artists in this show are well known to me, that is not the case with Begum. Until this exhibition I had never heard of her, but now that I have met her – and from her talk learnt about her manner of working – I have to say her art is “right down my street”.

Begum is a highly versatile artist, whose work is wide-ranging and yet identifiable as being uniquely hers. She is a painter, a printmaker, a sculptor, a creator of installations, a designer of furniture, a film-maker. She is an explorer, an experimenter, a modernist and yet a traditionalist.

Charles Zuill was impressed by Rana Begum, whose art is now on exhibit at the Bermuda National Gallery (Photograph by Angus Mill)

Begum’s primary territory for exploration is that of industrial materials as found in hardware stores. She is, however, not adverse to using traditional crafts and materials, such as with basketry or ceramics.

Begum readily acknowledges her influences: that of minimalism but also traditional Islamic geometric patterning. She freely crosses boundaries, artistic but also national and cultural.

To say the least, I am impressed by her art.

Begum is a London-based artist who was born in Bangladesh but moved to England with her family when she was 8. She studied painting at the Chelsea College of Art and Design and then received a Master of Arts in painting from the Slade School of Fine Art, London in 2002. She was elected a Royal Academician in the area of painting in 2019.

The Begum contribution to this BNG exhibition is a grouping of 15 etchings; a particular kind of etching known as “chine colle”. This is a process whereby it is possible to add colour to a print while utilising only one printing plate. This particular piece is called No 861.

Begum restricts her titles to numbers. She says that this limitation allows the work to speak for itself.

Over the course of her career, Begum has had opportunity to work in a number of different countries and cities, such as Hong Kong, Dubai, Bangkok, Thailand and Beirut, Lebanon as well as her homeland, Bangladesh.

Artist Rana Begum (Photograph supplied by the Bermuda National Gallery)

In a recent Royal Gazette article, Begum said that she found the Bermuda roof of particular interest and, considering this interest, she also managed to visit a Bermuda stone quarry. It would not be surprising if what she creates in conjunction with her Bermuda visit somehow relates to this part of Bermuda’s architectural vernacular.

I wait with interest to see.

• Simplicity of Form: Unfolding Abstraction continues at the Bermuda National Gallery through October 31. For more information, visit www.bng.bm

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Published September 09, 2023 at 7:56 am (Updated September 11, 2023 at 1:46 pm)

BNG show among the best in 30 years

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