Rubbena Aurangzeb-Tariq is a Deaf British born Muslim artist based in London. As a graduate from the prestigious St Martins College studying Fine Art and Goldsmiths University in London, she has been exhibiting her work since 1992 in America, Sweden, Paris, Canada, and the UK but to name a few places.
Her works are an exploration through the layers of colour and texture into the depths of culture. Influenced by comparisons of the Eastern and Western world, her work represents many aspects of the Muslim culture, feminism, deafness, Deaf identity and the way we live today. In her brave, bold and powerful installation ‘Unheard Until Marriage’ it explores the emotions and colour attached to arranged marriage for Muslim women. It has been widely exhibited in various galleries and locations in UK.
During her time at St Martins as a young adult studyingfor her BA (Hons) and living independently, she started to meet more Deaf people through interpreted gallery tours, clubs and pubs. In that period of her life, she developed a stronger sense of belonging within the Deaf community and began using Sign Language. This led her to produce paintings and boxed installation about her experiences to Indian Music and attitudes of deafness both by Deaf people and society. While at university she married a hearing man who is a top medical surgeon of the same ethnic origin and background which added another layer of identity she embraces.
Her paintings are abstract, bold, with strong colours often straight out of the tube, using oil sometimes along with glass and lava textures for example. As with abstract – layers, lines, bumps, rough/smooth edges are also widely featured. With her wonderful trademark long plaited hair that almost reaches the, ground she paints in her studio near Richmond in London and is also a registered and qualified Art Therapist.
As brilliant luck would have it she won the Deaf Explorers Arts Award for research and travel as I did too. She used the awards to enable her to travel to Bollywood to research, develop a deeper understanding and insight of the deaf community in India. She has plans to return there to exhibit work.
As we are both from London we would take regular train trips to Birmingham for the Deaf Explorers meetings, presentations, and performances. From our conversations it was clear to me that Bollywood music was a big part of her childhood through films. It was basically the start of her art career; seeing big dazzling lights, dancing, singing, colours, glorious costumes, emotions all flying about in her very eyes which lead her to document all these creative elements into painting. From that point I was then interested to see what it would be like if she painted my flute music…the story unfolds.
We met up at her studio one fine day straight after the New Year. The place was quiet and empty as many artists were still away on their Christmas holiday. Her room is airy, light and spacious with high ceilings. We were fresh and alert, very excited to get going along with trepidation with how things will turn out.
I prepared a composed piece of flute music about the life cycle of ‘The Butterfly’. The title gives me plenty of imagination and freeform and it is also believed through science that butterflies are deaf, and they are very sensitive to vibrations. The story begins with an egg, then caterpillar, chrysalis and lastly the butterfly. The flute imitates the stillness of the egg, the crawling caterpillar munching away a leaf, the changing of the chrysalis leading to a virtuous performance of the butterfly dance.
My writing for the flute playing is advant garde which is quite modern. I like to play with an imaginative story to it involving shape, expression, colour, covering the wide range of pitch, articulation, dynamics, and even including some small percussive effects from the rattling keys on the flute. Yet it is all organised and carefully planned.
Rubbena is profoundly deaf but with her hearing aids on in both ears she can hear pretty much everything. So, with the first canvas and her ‘listening’ ears ready – she had no idea what to expect as I did not tell her the musical story. I began playing the butterfly music and the first thing she decided – very much on impulse was to paint the background mossy green noisily scraping her palette knife followed by blue, yellow and red colour strokes. She tells me that long blue lines represented the long notes on the flute, whereas the closely, short repeated yellow and red lines represented the quick ‘duh-duh-duh-duh’ running quavers. It seems to represent her vision from the Bollywoodyears as she burst straight into colour. The painting was a delight to my eyes!
During our lunch break, I told her the musical story about the egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly etc. I went through each stage with her, how sounds were interpreted. It certainly built a picture in her head.
So with the second canvas painting I played the same music on my flute again. When Rubbena was finished I was quite shocked with theresult. It was almost all white! It all looked calmer yet there were still some wild strokes, swirling and rhythmic lines which coincidently matches the first canvas. She chose white for the beginning of life which started with the egg, plus the sound of hearing only one instrument. White also represented being in control, she explained.
It was such an invigorating session. The outcome in my opinion was very interesting and seeing my music interpreted in a painting. The contrast between the two pieces was catching. There is a lot of richness in to the quality of how she produced it. I feel it matches my music. It was heavy, dramatic, calm, and light, all in one. We were very emotionally exhausted at the end of the session, but happy with the result of our first music series.
Next series: Rubbena paints orchestra
Related links: www.rubbena.com