"Bodies take shape as they move through the world directing themselves toward or away from objects and others. Being 'orientated' means feeling at home, knowing where one stands, or having certain objects within reach."1
The state of standing still is just an illusion. We can think that a work of art occupies a fixed position on a wall or pedestal, but these surfaces, like everything else on Earth, are on a daily orbital journey around the sun. Rana Begum's work reveals the subtle movements of our planet as they draw our attention to the way that natural light (also a moving entity)impacts our perception of colour. To understand the work of Rana Begum is to become more acutely aware of our movement through the world, and the world's movement in the universe.
Rana Begum is hyper-sensitive to the landscapes she inhabits, finding poetry in the geometries of the everyday experience—from scaffolding she comes into contact with while building her new studio in London, to fishing nets and floats she encountered over the last two years on residencies by the sea in Cornwall (England), Bataan (Philippines) and Istanbul (Turkey), to hand-woven baskets that inhabit her childhood memories of growing up in Bangladesh. All of these landscapes, and her meditations on the light that passes over them, come into the work—however, there is another reading of the word 'light' that becomes more apparent in the artist's third show in India at Jhaveri Contemporary.
'Light' can also be read as an absence of weight. The same body can sense its weight differently depending on where it stands; we float in the saltiest of seas or in the zero-gravity zone of outer-space. We can feel gravity's strongest push from the arctic ocean and its weakest grip from the peaks of Mount Huascaran in Peru. Rana Begum creates environments that release materials from behaving the way we expect them to, and this exhibition has a fluidity to it, enhanced by the seaside location of the gallery. She brilliantly makes the heaviest of industrial materials, such as cast aluminum and large-scale glass sheets, appear weightless as they float from walls and pedestals. In one of her newest bodies of work, inspired by polyethylene floats and buoys, Begum creates seemingly buoyant sculptures from Italian marble (which carries calcium carbonate from coral and shells, speaking to a time when the limestone forming the marble was under marine waters). The artist's wall-based jesmonite paintings call to mind the colours of sunset light shining atop undulating waves, and also appear to be attempts at mapping a changing world. Akin to ocean-spray that quietly and unpredictably accumulates on the surfaces of cars and buildings near the shore, Begum's new series of paintings develop from the overspray from daily work in the studio. Experiencing Rana's cast sculptures and cast nets that make up her newest site-specific installation, we remember that we can be both delicate and strong, firm and flexible, planned and spontaneous. We can only really feel the movement around us by knowing where we stand.
Diana Campbell Betancourt
1 Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006).
Press release courtesy Jhaveri Contemporary.