Meditations 2: On self love, body and shame.

Art, Bangladesh, community, Dhaka, Exhibition, Love, Photography, Portraits, Portraiture, Reflections, Self Portrait, Thoughts

Continuing on my thread of meditations on body, love, and beyond. It dawns on me the need to unravel my mind a bit, too. The image above helps me to ground some ideas about the mythical, shifting nature of my body, the elements that comprise of my race, and the lived and inherited shame. I may come back to revise some of this, it seems a bit clunky still, also.

My identity, one that intersects across a Male, Queer, British Bangla diaspora, of Muslim heritage, but now relatively agnostic / atheist.. is one that envelopes the feeling of being a minority, but also a majority in some junctions of my identity when I am in Bangladesh – and partially of the male, Bengali patriarchy. It is complex, as drifting from space to space, can and does mean so many different things, especially in how the body is interpreted. What is important to acknowledge though, in the not being fully one identity, my identity of fragments, also make me who I am.

A slight diversion; Shame, is about that societal, collective shame that I was raised in, that shame which exists to belittle or deny our right to be. In this instance, shame is a lingering, passive aggressor, it creeps on me. I dare not share for shame, for what that shame means to me, is not important – what it is, is a collective angst towards conforming to societal norms. What other people think accordingly has been a mantra I’v grown up around, and have sometimes vehemently rejected. Yet, my protest or rejection to deny shame its grip on my mind and body, on my ability to love and be loved is not so violent. It erupts, in fragments, and especially in conversations. So, I reflect on this, in other readings, in my art, in references to concepts of self-care, in conversations with friends, in understanding trauma(s) that I have experienced over time, finding coping mechanisms that work for me. But also, sharing. In the leaving of religion, there is shame. In the declaration of sexuality, there is shame. In the calling out of abuse, naming the abuser, there is shame. Shame envelopes entire beings, it can rip at the core of our self in ways that is impossible to see, witness, or bare.

It is this, that forces me to often come back to self portraits, in this instance, in turning the camera on my self, I am at once being narcissistic, and at the other, allowing myself to be vulnerable, to be objectified, which becomes a safe space, but also to be potentially fetishised. In the various sub-cultures that I occupy, one straddled across queer, diaspora landscapes, of the UK, of hints of BDSM, and beyond. Of course, it seems I am also unable to call shame out, to destroy its structural grip on my self. So I resort to this making of art and an attempt to write about it as a reflection instead on self-love. IF I am to put my previous meditation on queer love, namely; the pursuit, the anticipation and the emancipation of self-love. What would it mean? Straddled with the phenomena of how I articulate my self to the outside world, physically, visibly. Does this being need to pursue to self love? It comes pre-loaded with shame. The pursuit is one am uncomfortable with. Why? because it means acknowledging and loving parts of the self that are filled with fault, that carry shame. Those experiences have specific traumatic blots on the mind. The pursuit of self love is riddled with challenges. Yet, there IS a pursuit. This somehow is also comforting. That am willing to pursue self love, perhaps at a cost? Perhaps meekishly at first, unsure about the approach. Yet, it is there.

In critiquing my self, in best a form I can, through art, through reflexive writing, I conjure up fantasies of my self, this miraculous, wonderful and somewhat Bangladeshi vessel that had wants and desires that cannot be fully expressed. Until they are. This seems always momentary. The forgetting of, rather than moving on from, shame. The pursuit of clarity, of clarifying how self love sits, within the wider acknowledgements of different loves.

The shame, which has seemed relatively permanent, has required constant unworking. And in the past few years of pushing my limits in exploring, willingly challenging those pillars that were steadfastly grounded as shame. Through arguments and confrontations with my self, with others, in re-presentations and conversations, here I am. Not so vulnerable, yet, the self love, the pursuit of it, is quite real. There is a fear to self love too. I can anecdotally reflect back to childhood. Childhood, where we first learn to do all the things we do for the rest of our lives. In this childhood, shame is also a pillar. In watching, seeing, hearing and not understanding then, what this idea of shame was, embedded deep into a subconsciousness that can turn to self-hate in the future, even in the present, and beyond. How to anticipate self-love? It seems like an elastic band at times, pushing it to its limit, and just like that, am snapped back to a different point of shame.

In anticipation of self-love, I reflect on the various moments I have taken to journal, offline, to read, to draw, and explore through my thoughts. The most privilege of things, is time, to be able to reflect. The time it has taken to undo the deep rooted concepts of shame. The time it will take to continue undoing. In liberating my self, especially the body, through self-love, in anticipating it as a truth to my self, there is something being nurtured. This enamoured emancipation towards self love can occur, in fleeting moments.

The body, becomes something to learn from, it teaches me what my mind cannot, what literature, and theory cannot. It teaches me, that what I see in the mirror, is real. The camera, however can play tricks, I can play with lighting, I distort the reality. I come with a tainted identity it seems. This taint, impacts the anticipation of self-love.

So rather, this idea of acknowledgement of the lived experience, this current time, space and place creates a certain environment for me to reflect. This moment, affords me to critique a past body that I have also lived in. The body becomes an important part of the path to self-love for me, because it is the only body that I live with. It was, and is interesting to reflect on where I have come to, so far. So is it about forgiveness also? Do I need to think about how to treat past experiences better? There is no escaping some of them, they will regurgitate in dreams and reflections over time, and again.

To conclude then, this encapsulates, for me, a queering of self love too, of revealing me to myself, my ability to think about and beyond this. In thinking about the body, further, deeper, politicised somewhat now, because of its queerness and it sits there, unknown. Its ability to explore and push fetishes, boundaries and pursue ideas that I maybe uncomfortable with. This self love, of this body, is critical too. I dont occupy one particular community, nor do I feel like I belong to one. What I do have, is friends and family that I care about, and that I hope care about me. Here I am, writing, exploring, and attempting make sense of a journey towards self love. It has helped, to create mechanisms to cope, when that love is not offered. OR yet to be offered. Its a strange feeling, awaiting to acknowledge love for your self. Yet, it is this balancing, this deliberate play of mind and body that flickers between real and dream.

Photographs: Dhaka Rickshaws

Bangladesh, Photography, Reflections, Urban, Urban issues

Reflections. 1 April 2020

Bangladesh, Reflections

Quickly writing some thoughts. May revise / review later.

Writing, reflecting, working, in this current time has been rather difficult, for all things considered.  Hearing, reading and seeing the bravery of key workers, doctors, nurses, hospital cleaners, city cleaners, waste pickers, supermarket staff, warehouse staff, delivery people, all across the world.  I’m engrossed in keeping up to date, paranoid almost, about missing the latest updates. It reduces us down to basics. It seems an out of body experience, watching myself, watching my dreams flicker between odd memories, watching the news, watching, watching. My eyes have not been more tired. As am currently, it feels like with the rest of the world, obsessing over COVID19 updates, looking at surreal exponential graphs of death and spread that are reduced to curving lines and , without real awareness of the lives lost and the memories that can no longer made.

I wonder about friends, family and lovers am unable to meet, even across neighbourhoods, or in nearby towns or cities, or distant countries, across continents. Of the thousands of people who have passed away already, alone, or the inability of many to say goodbye properly. Am accustomed to Skype and video chats, and some of have the privilege to have those conversations online, but I also know, they never measure to the real thing. Of being with a loved one and enjoying their company, in a physical space, sharing, being.

I wonder, and am afraid, for those living now in the fear of perpetual potential violence cohabiting abusive people in their home, but now, no ways of escaping or being far away from them. Yes, overwhelmed. I wonder about people who, having left home to live their best queer lives, are perhaps locked in with homophobic family members, unable to breath, in fear of trauma, of triggered actions and detonation of mental health. I read about India’s situation and their negligent approach to shut down, leaving many thousands, if not millions stranded and no way back to villages. Of starvation. A real, wake up call to some of us not exposed to vulnerable communities in the past, but our own communities becoming fragile now.

My twitter feed is filled with both hope and tragedy. Full of wonderful news of community building, sharing, caring and supporting each other – be they queer, homeless, struggling with mental health, livelihood precariousness and beyond. Its also full of numbers, of deaths, of cases, of the exponential rise among countries, China, Italy, USA, UK, France, Iran, it grows, with no clear understanding when this pandemic will end, or whom it will spare.

Here in Bangladesh its near impossible to critique or comment usually, and in a situation where leaving the country is almost impossible for absolutely anybody due to lockdowns globally, being critical of the way government is responding to this situation is also not advised. So, we have limited cases that we know of. and few deaths that have been accounted for relating to COVID19, and we are awaiting more testing capacity in the coming weeks. It’s Overwhelming. Precisely because of the above. How do we shut off from it? we cannot. It is overwhelming. And I can only say, that it is ok to feel that overwhelming burden of responsibility, of helplessness, of anxiety.

I worry over the potential of elderly relatives contracting the virus in the UK, US, and Bangladesh. The threat is both imminent and real. At the same time, I wanted to take an hour to dump my thoughts – archive them. Journaling hasn’t helped as much, perhaps its because it seems futile.  There is despair, I accept it in moments – not in totality.

Yet, they are feeding into something that I cannot understand yet, but can perhaps recognise as being overwhelmed, anxious, scared. When news of Layli’s father contracting Covid-19, then consequently passing earlier in the week came. It hits; a friend’s father passed away from the virus that has plagued the world. I offered the very little and at the same time the most that I could of me, a text message with condolences, and that those of us in an extreme privilege are able to give away, freely, my time and willingness to listen whenever she needs or wants it.  I cannot imagine what she is going through, she has posted some thoughts on her facebook wall.  In the midst of it, her spirit shines through. I am in Dhaka, she is in London. I send what seems a norm to us all, virtual hugs.

‘I was the last family member to see him on the day he died. It was for a mere 15 minutes. How I wish I had been allowed to ruffle the few strands of hair or kiss him on his forehead just to let him know that he was loved. How I wish I had been allowed to clean his yellowing teeth or the dry skin around the corner of his eyes. I couldn’t do any of those things. I am now left with these thoughts and images, and they will never go away. I can only hope that they soften with time.

I went in wearing a mask, gloves and a flimsy apron, PPE that falls far short of WHO standards. I was willing to wear it because I desperately wanted to see my dad. But why should doctors, nurses and other NHS workers put themselves or their loved ones at risk? Their job is to save lives, not to put theirs or their loved ones at stake. This is not a war, a language and tone used by this government to cover up their immorality, irresponsibility and incompetence. This is work and we should demand decent workplace conditions for people to do their job.’ Collected from Layli’s facebook wall post, 30 March 2020.

There are no dress rehearsals for life, we are given our lot and we must do the best we can with it. There’s plenty of nitpicked quotes we can use, share, read. In times of such abject and disastrous realities, its hard to not be continually overwhelmed. Who next, when will it be over, how does the world look post covid19?

Those of us able, are doing the best possible within the means we have – its been devastating to see and read so much of the damage being done. However, this language that some politicians have adopted, of war, rings hollow. It’s another PR exercise, to build both fear, and to pretend we are all in this together. To pretend that all lives are equal after all. We are being sold a lie, as we have been for decades now, about the wonderful capitalist system, one that has been co-opted and ripped out and replaced with yucky, na, grotesquely immoral and unethical practice, on the premises of economic growth but at the cost of our own communities and nature, and more.

As we have seen, political will and mobilisation, which is aiming to aspire towards egalitarian and socially just society, often means a serious, aggressive battle. This battle, now, seems rather a bleak one in my view. Economic bailouts of large corporations, whilst many thousands lose jobs, homes, and ultimately lives, again brings to mind the pretence of equality. Many others have written great critique of the fallacy of this pretence, and many more, continue to advocate for it.

Yet, this systemic, economic, structural inequality that has plagued much of the world, shows its truth in ways most cannot imagine. The understanding of the concept of home and shelter. Of having a home to be isolated in. That home being big enough so that there is space of separation between people, especially those that may have contracted the virus. Or the insecurity of tenure that, in this current situation will become horrific for many who are unable to afford to pay rent, or to buy food, to survive due to inability to, or no work being available as they are forced to wait, as governments across the world enforce lockdowns.  To suggest to go for walks as exercise, but not having access to any public space to do so. And so it goes. Basic. Human. Rights – it seems an aggressively radical thing to aspire to.

Amidst it all, what is, and has always been true is the spirit of most humans to do good by their neighbours, their communities, to prop and support and share. In Bangladesh, many groups have been established already on facebook, there are youth movements in distribution of soaps and sanitisers, there are thousands of people volunteering to distribute emergency food parcels, basic needs etc. Many thousands more, mobilising to support where they can, with creative solutions, with innovations, with energy and spirit of caring, of listening and socialising via the various apps available to us in the internet age.

This often means very simply; accessible and universal healthcare, free education up to university, affordable and good housing for all, affordable and safe public transport systems, and commitments towards developing eco-systems that do not harm nature ( which can also be translated to going away from fossil fuel consumption and having affordable energy ) and people, those able to, working to their best ability. This is verbatim, its information that is available everywhere – from the Green New Deal, to United Nations SDGs, to various countries that do have genuinely progressive policies, that others can, should and often are not, learning from. Decentralised, local and regional development is so crucial in this, and there is so much amazingly good things happening out there.

Historians, especially those that study across centuries and millenniums, will perhaps say that the change we seek, is going to happen but in natures timescale, not human ones. Rapid development has taken place since WW2. yet, in the meanwhile, people continue to be oppressed, to suffer, to be denied basic human rights, in the name of economic progress and growth. A growth that has inherently harmed much of the planet, and its people in ways we are only beginning to see. Climate scientists are screaming and shouting for decades now, only to be told often, their science is wrong.  Even in this current situation, many climate advocates are writing and asking the simple question; why are we not taking climate change seriously still?

It often seems so simple, yet when I look at the realities – the challenges of being tactical, strategical planning and negotiations that organisations and individuals are doing to push forward progressive agendas. Navigating political arenas, it is so difficult, the positioning of evidence based policy research and strategy papers that perhaps I believe in, often does not get a shoe in. Why do we choose not to invest properly and fully in this? Why is there ideological resistance of this evidence based policy planning still? Why do we want to continue supporting, aiding perpetually unequal systems that harm the most vulnerable in society?

Questions, that have been answered well, and by many. Yet, critique of capitalism, doesn’t mean I want to over throw it. However, Social Justice does need to be at the heart of it.

A few weeks ago, I read and reviewed my youngest sister’s tax dissertation. It was interesting to both read it and perhaps, a key reminder to myself, that mainstream economic thinking for governments has always been about growth, often at any cost. However, Without real, equitable, egalitarian redistribution systems in place, the economic growth simply does not translate to a prosperous and balanced society.

Queer(in)g Croydon: Reflections from the Panel Discussion.

Art, Arts, Black and White, Boys, Charcoal and Ink, Chinese ink, City life, conte, Culture, Free Event, Friends, Ink, People, Portraits, Reflections, Self Portrait, Talks, Thoughts, UK, Urban issues

My Reclining Nude Scrolls exhibition took place at the LOFT, Croydon Arts Store, Croydon’s Whitgift Shopping Centre, from the 22-24th February 2018. As part of the opening, I chaired a panel discussion on the potential to create a new queer place for Croydon’s diverse LGBTQIA community led by people of colour. This formed a part of Croydon’s LGBT History Month activities, and also a part of the wider queer place-making discourse that is taking place in London. The exhibition was a series of Indian Ink drawings exploring the reclined nude over fifty metres of paper, along with a series of self portraits across ten metres of paper, these comprised of friends and lovers. The discussion followed an open question and answer session, and live music by Tom and Jet of the Ninetales Collective, in the LOFT space. More than fifty people were present throughout the evening and participated in the conversations. The panelists were: Almass Badat, Ana Benlloch, Mandisa Apena, Fahmida Islam and Asifa Lahore and the session was chaired by Ruhul Abdin. Along with the panelists, space and time was provided to David Page, Secretary of the Croydon Area Gay Society, who expressed some of their shortfalls in attracting female and younger members to the group, and Fabio Schiffano, a member of the Croydon Pride Steering Committee.

Panelists shared their experiences of places and spaces where they felt safe, and put forward suggestions such as mentoring schemes, events and cultural representations of the queer community in and out of Croydon, as well as the nuanced diversity that also exists within the LGBTQI community. This initial discussion, for me exemplifies both the need for a much more sensitive acknowledgement of the intersections of race, class, gender and sexuality towards the potential to programme activities as well as events that cater not to a homogenous group, but to specific ones, thus not diluting the diversity that exists, but acknowledging and reflecting and celebrating the importance of difference that does exist. The beautiful networks and support that exist already means a queer place will take shape in Croydon, hopefully sooner, rather than later. The potential to do something meaningful, led and driven by the queer community, especially people of colour, working together across generations and cultural heritages will be crucial. It was interesting that the conversation did not focus on just the potential for a new ‘night’ venue, but rather something for those that maybe less keen to be seen in a loud evening venue. For those desiring or needing a safe place to be, its not so easily available. Whether it will entail arts, food, intangible and tangible cultural practices, is to be seen in the coming months.

The audiences’ feedback and questions were also pertinent and timely, suggesting to work closely with the Croydon Council, with other groups that exist already and to be tactical in the openness of the process of establishing a place. We were told that Croydon is the largest London borough with a population over 380,000+ people and itself has a deep history with LGBT+ activities. It is represented currently in events such as the Croydon Pridefest, which Fabio told the audience will take place again this year, hoping it to be bigger than ever. The Borough participates regularly in LGBT History Month, IDAHO as well as diverse groups such as the Croydon Area Gay Society (CAGS) and TRANSPAL that meet regularly. Another issue to keep in mind is, should or does the conversation only need to happen online? In virtual spaces? To save costs and to create networks, online spaces maybe a way forward. This is one of the means of mobilizing and sharing, but not something that takes precedence over a physical place that can provide more sensitive and safe ways of meeting, socializing or learning.

‘Wonderful diversity of voices, colour, age and backgrounds’

This event also links with the wider debates, as there has been the erosion and closure of entertainment and other venues that catered specifically for the LGBT+ community across Croydon, and in London and this means new models of place-making that have a congruent strategic and pragmatic approach is crucial, this looks at learning about governance structures that are more transparent and flexible and creating a vision and plan that is led by the queer community, beyond the night life culture. Here, is perhaps the most challenging of any task of a new queer place in Croydon – its diversity and potential to be a learning, engaging and supportive environment, as well as being one that generates revenue and sustains itself in to the future. Learning closely from venues such as the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, or The Glory in Dalston, but also further afield such as Cafes in Berlin, cultural cafes such as Café Otto or, closer to home, Turf Projects in Croydon, or even more eclectic – the DIY Space in South London, just off Old Kent Road – to the nuanced ideas being proposed for a community-owned pub in the name of Joiners Arms in East London, to Gays’ the Word bookshop. It is important to learn from diverse organizations, and definitely not just LGBTQ+ venues, but rather the importance to collaborate with allies that share the visions that are being developed.

‘A thought-provoking and entertaining evening of art, music and community building, bringing young and creative spirit to Croydon.’

Finally, in order to test the mettle, financial considerations are crucial to keep in mind, and quite possibly, how the meanwhile use of spaces – especially units that seem to have been underused or inactive for long periods of time could be better capitalized. Its time to pilot and test the potential to have again, another queer place in Croydon. The fundamental issues to keep in mind, is that the representation of people of colour, of different abilities and class and cultures need to be central to any place that is developed, in order to continue pushing the boundaries for Croydon and London in its ambitions to become safe places for all.

“It’s great to get the conversation started about how to bring Croydon’s diverse LGBTQ+ community together”

On the exhibition: “very evocative! It makes you want to strip off and recline with them”

To join the discussions: follow / like our page on facebook:

Photographs from the evening courtesy of Enamul Hoque

Thanks to the Croydon Arts Store, Turf Projects & Conner and Associates for the support in realising this event and exhibition.


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Dhaka Thoughts: On Love – a conversation with myself

Bangladesh, Love, Reflections, Thoughts, Truth

Warning: a long post!!

I have struggled with this idea for a bit and I suppose will continue to do. In seeking to make sense of Love, however, there seems to be some recurring thoughts. So, attempting – I suppose badly – to convey my current understanding on Love – as of today in May 2017:

It is so much easier to think about companionship, relationship or acquiring a husband or a wife, or a life partner as an end goal of Love than to think about the pursuit of Love for the sake of Love itself.  I was to develop my second Vlog about this, but instead, think that writing isn’t a terrible medium!

The societal conjuring of the continual pursuit for the one true Love is something I have learned to let go of.  The ‘English’ definition of Love, has been problematic because of its limitations – and it makes this post a little difficult to read maybe. It was this definition that I have grown up with, rather than other definitions that maybe much more welcoming. The Greeks had some interesting definitions – and although Bangla has its deeply rooted notions of Love, I am unable to unravel that just yet from its notions of ‘Shadona’, which is more about pursuing Love or Truth ( to be enlightened?) than that of the various ‘Sutras’, for example the Kama Sutra which explores the practical aspects of making Love with another or beyond ( perhaps much wiser souls will enlighten me on the journey! ) than the more restrictive ideas of ‘balobasha’.

So, going straight to it – for me, what I have experienced is often Love is seen as a weakness- a vulnerability, there is often a burden of being in Love – this is Shakespearian, its tragedy, it is often a deeply romantic ideas of longing and pursuits.  So, it becomes something that can be easily manipulated.  Sometimes, I think within the patriarchal structure – From experience I have seen men with their of perceptions of Love as a tool to possess and obsess. It links, for me, to a patriarchal definition of relationship, of ‘owning’ the person you may love, of systems where you would be giving ‘dowry’ to the woman, of being the provider.   How does that relate back to me? It perhaps doesnt, but in some conversations with friends who have more traditional values, its difficult to exchange ideas.

Yet, how do I NOT take advantage of someone enamoured by me?  It is so easy to do that, I realise to give in to someone else’s infatuation over me.  I push against jumping into something quickly, and for that I am also naive, and oft punished for not responding.  For people, it seems now to operate in a time constrained phenomena. More importantly, its the attraction and pursuit of Love rather than desire or lust that needs also to be found.  It is this, that I have found difficult, to Love, but not to get entangled in a false promise of the relationship without getting to know someone fully- it creates for me the middle ground of a discourse about Love and emotions, and the inability to acknowledge its Power over us and how it manipulates.  I am not, therefore saying Love is a bad thing, quite the opposite, however, I am acknowledging that my human trait, or perceptions of what Love is, is often misguided with a conjuring of how my society wants me to react to either pursuing or being pursued.

I have seen myself end up in jealous rages, I even wanted to possess forever, I end up obsessing endlessly, overanalysing maybe the details, how to do it better- and in those moments – it seems like it is lasting forever – and also, I realise some people desire that, or those negative emotions of possession and obsessions as a meaning of Love.  At the same time, it is quite amazing the number of people that have wanted to change me, or also changed me (because I gave in – some people may be in shock reading that! (of course to make me a ‘better’ all round human being), or want to possess me, or want to describe needing me as a Love, or be jealous of what I do and who I see.

What has been a good lesson is learning to let go to Love and of Love, to understand the differences of being in Love versus Loving someone.  To say it is ok to be vulnerable at that moment and in that time and to that soul and to myself.  This too shall pass – this quote is oft said to me, and I say to others.  This has been an unfathomable journey of course, and one that requires patience and time. Each Love experience has its journey – sometimes, yes – it can end up being lasting the lifetime of a couple. The stability and security one seeks in ‘Love’, always intrigues me.  For me, Love is a Force.  Can it be the ultimate ‘freedom’, I suppose so.. ?

Companionship, relationships, the life partner, can steady the ship – but Love is definitely the Force.  Does that or is that interlinked with purpose or pursuits of Truth or Happiness?

So, how does that look in my life? a big mess?, a lot of experiments?, and not giving up? Unsatisfied or satisfied encounters?  Is there a point to the  pursuit of Love?  not as a pursuit for a better option, but to acknowledge that yes – you can seek Love anywhere and find it, as long as you have it within you, in the first place!

How to explain that? Without using metaphors? It depends of course on your own perception. Here it shifts away from one kind of Love to another, even in description. For me, Love can be seen as the ultimate part of the pursuit of Truth, or expression of Truth through experiencing Love, in its entirety ( some sort of euphoric, uncontrollable emotion that can be released in actions or words ) or felt when encountering a mutual soul that shares values and ideas at an unconscious level.  It needs to be separated and acknowledged in these different aspects of Love that we seek.

The key here, perhaps for me – taking an approach of the Artist, who is keen to understand and explore his world, his self, is how is that Love making him become more of a human being – across all the aspects of myself. That does not particularly relate to not making the same mistake of falling in Love again and again, but rather, what is it that Love continues to teach me? and how can I invest even more in Love, not in that individual, but the Love itself, and in that, is the thing that is of value.  Does that mean I am not seeking a particular ‘type’ of person to Love? I do not think I am. I have Loved and Love a diverse range of people across ages.  Yet, the pursuit of Truth, of Love, or of happiness, is a very different pursuit to the one often embedded in other ideas -of finding ‘stability’ ‘security’ and companionship, to find a mate to create a family.

so this continual desire to be vulnerable through Love – perhaps seems slightly part of a sadomasochists ritual.  The ability to Love first and foremost, for me, has been to start with the self. In repeating many poets and philosophers (without reference or quotations ) is that you must fill your own soul full of love, to the point it can overspill- this is the Love that you can give freely, without expectation of a return.  So the people that I Love and will have the capacity to love, could potentially be limitless. I must acknowledge the methods that I need to fill my soul with Love.

So – what does that really mean? within the society that I am clearly a part of, within communities that I exist in? and within the cultural upbringing that I have had?

A quick addendum: Having been raised in a quasi Bangla islamic family structure where my father had for a time been in a bigamous relationship – two women and for a period split his time between the two families – was am sure definitely something that made little sense to us as children.  I never thought that I would end up thinking about the idea of polyamory in this manner.

Perhaps those are the underlying references for why I may believe its absolutely fine for us to have as many love or lovers as we desire, as so far as, it is honest.  Where I begin to differ from my cultural traditions, is the need for it to be formally structured into a very simple heteronormative structure of The relationship.  Does that make me into something quite radical? I don’t think so. Although I can accept that I probably cannot have multiple lovers whom I love with the same intensity.  I can also, quite honestly say, when Love does happen – it happens and its journey, or time, tends to be focused on the one soul that I have fallen for. It is from the point of love that I would like to start the conversation of any potential relationship – whether it is friendship, of a sexual nature, or not.

What does that mean for me and its meaning? I can live with many cliches – I live a relatively intense life sometimes – so it genuinely takes time to filter things.  So, in encounters, in romance and in Love too – I am naive.  I don’t realise the emotions that am going through – so the potential filter or check that I would allow for my self to acknowledge things, is oft misplaced.

Having explored and separated sexual love, away from other loves, its been fascinating to think and explore then, what sexual Love is, and what it means to have relationships that may or may not be based upon sexual Love.

And of course, in other aspects – where it becomes blurred is the pursuit of Love as a thing inherent in itself – as a process or path to self-realisation, or the desire to pursue Truth. In this, it can become quite wishy washy – and I have done my best to separate the two.  The pursuit of self-realisation, or ones True self, is, for me, a pursuit of Truth to realise your self as a human, as a being, as an individual and as a part of an eco-system of animals and nature, as a being within a political sphere, a cultural sphere and a social sphere – that is embedded in class, wealth, caste, race, religion, sexuality, etc etc.

My biggest admission, and perhaps a part of my naivety ( as highlighted by someone who may read this) – seems to be that I am unaware of the amazing things happening when in the moment – to not be ‘present’, despite being very aware of the activities going on, as Love develops.  I allow people to take advantage of this nature of my approach to Love. And its absolutely fine, there is plenty of it in the bucket!  Seeing that play out within myself a few times, I dare to question and challenge these particular ideas of Love.

The difficulty in acknowledging that others can love me ( am I loveable? ) is always a paradox – one is the vanity with which we wear our ego – OF COURSE he or she must love me! yet beyond that, how to unpack this idea that Love is quite possibly an emotion that is fleeting. And the other, is our insecurity – How can somebody love me?  For me it has been a mix bag – I am relatively aware of my self and love who I am. Yet, my insecurities play directly into other peoples hand when I realise that they want more. Am I ready for such commitments? and at what cost? And, so, in these encounters and pursuits, what does it mean and what is the role of Love? I can say I have broken more hearts than I realise. Does this boost my ego? It saddens me, instead. I don’t really know how to fully explain that being able to Love, without wanting such strict returns, is a model of ‘relationship’ that everyone fully acknowledges.  Yet, I do not desire everyone! So, in theory, it is fine!

For me, Love takes a while – I don’t know why. For some, it is instantaneous ( I wont pretend that I think they are full of poppycock! BUT it can and has happened. ) For all arguments sake of course, I can say right now, the individuals that I do love, know it.  The journey to here, seems to have been OK (and the few that do know my journey well, will know that it is littered with fantastically fun, as well as excruciatingly annoying moments)  I could imagine it have being much worse, somehow.

I will end here.  I believe Love and life has blessed me in a miraculous way, of course, and I cannot express often in words, the joy that I feel when in Love. So, it is in these moment where my art is often a better communicator.  I can go with the artists of the past, write poetry, or paint a portrait, or whatever. Sometimes, though, the actual words do need to be expressed – am getting better at doing that. The journey of pursuing Love continues. 😀

AND thank you for reading this far ( if you did! well done, and apologies for the ramble!, hope it was a little interesting! )

Dhaka thoughts: Video blog 1: On Shame

Art, Bangladesh, Journey, Life, Reflections, Thoughts, Truth

This is my first personal video blog, and hoping this method might be more useful in the future as I think about how to improve it.  My eyes dart around a bit, as I tried to work to a loose script ( I kept going off topic, when I tried to freestyle, ending with long meanders about nothing! ) VERY different media to writing, for sure, or drawing.

Exhibition: At Kamalapur, a reflection

Art, Bangladesh, Black and White, Boys, charcoal drawings, Dhaka, Drawings, Exhibition, Friends, Girl, Journey, People, Photography, Portraiture, Railway Station, Reflections, UK, Urban, Women

On my to do list of readings has been to read again, the brilliant John Berger who recently passed away. (YouTube Link to John Berger: Art of Looking / PDF version of the book online) – I realise how difficult it is to write a review of my own work – so, bare with me! 🙂

I wanted to reflect and review ‘At Kamalapur’ the current exhibition of portrait drawings at the Gram Bangla, 68 Brick Lane, London.

As the artist whose work is being exhibited,  I have struggled to be a little removed from it – to have until now to think about what it means to me to get to part of the process. I recently managed to visit the Picasso exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London- it left me intrigued, perhaps in a way I was not expecting – the image that continues to play on my mind is the one ‘Claude Drawing’ it struck a cord in me – and reminded me of a drawing I did of the children drawing at the station, ‘The site of Drawing’ : a slight deviation, but reflects for me quickly – influences and inspirations that continually reshape the work we do and the meanings we take from them. Time provides, always some scope for critical reflection.

A lot of my occupation within this strand of life, of self exploration as artist in a situated environment has been to force myself to ‘look’, and ‘see’ and ‘hear’ with quite possibly a rudimentary tool set – pencils, paper, charcoals, Chinese ink and sometimes oil pastels.  Why these set of tools? because they are simple, they are honest materials to work with in depicting lines, movements, marks, scratches, shades of light and dark onto paper, they allow for abstraction and focus and the potential to re-work until what I draw, connects with what I think am seeing. Its tough.

‘At Kamalapur’ exhibition finally provides an opportunity to hear about how other people – the public- look and see these drawings, removed away from the site of Dhaka’s main station.  What is it that the artist wants to present, and in this case – represent? ‘I would wish my portraits to be of the people, not like them. Not having a look of the sitter, being them’. (Lucian Freud)

The curated space, with eight A2 drawings, (2 figures, 6 portraits) framed strongly in black; and the selection of similar drawings provides the potential to have a conversation. I left it to the viewer to imagine what the life of each drawing maybe about. It has led to interesting dialogue.

I did not have any interest in recreating or curating the experiences of being in the station, as such it was not curated to be an immersive experience. As a snapshot of a project spanning now two years, in various shapes and forms, it really simply acts as an introduction for me, to really think about the purpose of art and drawing and also the intent to exhibit. The obsessions of technique, of aesthetic qualities, of proportion is slowly being left to one side- yet, the significance of them not being lost. Perhaps we are not being critical enough – of its intentions, the ethics and mortality, of such ideas.  The number of times I have left the space emotionally vulnerable has beguiled me, yet, I go back. Wanting to continually push the ways that I see.

Within this particular drawing process, the abstraction to a white paper space, to limited interference – reduced to the face, to the eyes or sometimes the figure. I continue to question how I look at people and what it means to be. The sitters are people, as much as you and I are, and its that human quality, through the technique of drawing, that I am keen to understand. What does it mean to be a human being?  especially on a piece of paper? the question to challenge the potential of the art making process. The drawings are often transitory, of a moment in time of a person’s life. Sometimes, larger than life, often, they still feel romanticised. A failure on my part, perhaps?

However, when work is presented in a restaurant space, in a street filled with so much activity, and madness of culture and consumption, does it work? Or is it that, the romance of the idea – of being lost in such spaces – of having other things to do, despite it being carefully placed? It being the backdrop to a busy canteen of people of eating and chatting? So, how much abstraction and curation is required here? Does the art command itself to be seen? and how will people know? Do I care so much about that? What makes me feel uncomfortable? What prods me to continue on asking and potentially making? Can it be more than emotive? instinctual? The potential to see a truth, an outpouring of love? it is hard to say. Even so, I tried to summarise, the context of presenting these drawings in a space on Brick Lane, in a simple way. In order to allow the viewer to see exactly what it is that I am focused on.  Perhaps, I also need to ask others write a review, and a continual conversation to take place – as build up to a potentially larger exhibition and publication.

The exhibition is free to view and runs until 22- January 2017 from 10am – 11pm, daily.

@Gram Bangla, 68 Brick Lane, London, E1 6RL

Frames were made by John Baker, who runs Workshop 53
Photo credits: Enamul Hoque
Facebook link to more images
Walls were re-painted by amazing help from Salam Jones, Heiner Salomon, Kazi Arefin, Maher Anjum, myself & Shahid bhai.


‘At Kamalapur’ is an on-going art project by Ruhul Abdin, and forms as part of a series of portrait drawings of people at the Kamalapur Railway Station, in Bangladesh’s capital, the megacity of Dhaka.  

Drawn from life, in conte charcoal and pencil on A2 drawing paper and studies across sketchbooks, the portraits express what the artist sees, and feels at the time. There is a rigour of revisiting the site, and re-drawing the same sitters, if chance permits.  

There are very limited conversations, or even time for such an activity with his sitters, and therefore, a lot of the portraits will only be a memory of seeing.  Those portraits where conversations have taken place, it is in confidence and in respect to the sitter, to not then expose those stories. 

Concentration is the main challenge, and so is the ability to let go of the drawing, when a sitter decides that they do not want to be sitting for the portrait drawing anymore.  

It is up to the viewer to imagine what the life of each sitter may be.

Dhaka, it is one of the most dense megacities in the world, with a population of over 17 million people. Kamalapur Station is the largest in the country and the most important terminal for transportation between Dhaka and the rest of Bangladesh.


Oitij-jo Collective, a platform for UK’s creative talents of Bengali and the British-Bengali Community ranging from Literature, Art, Design, Fashion and Music. This exhibition is part of Oitij-jo’s up and coming ‘AKHON/Where is Bengal Now?’ festival. |

GRAM BANGLA 68 Brick Lane, E1 6RL
Authentic Bangladeshi fish restaurant speciality fresh water fish from Bangladesh. It is the first restaurant to specifically cater for the need of the Bangladeshi community particularly amongst the young professionals.

Dhaka Drawings: Self-Portrait experiment & Thoughts on Obsession, attachment and detachment

Arts, Bangladesh, Portraits, Portraiture, Reflections, Self Portrait

And just like that, we let go. I dont let it go to me sometimes, and other times I do. In those moments, it seems unbearable. The very idea of being.

In conversations with my self, and others around me over the past few days I realise that my own obsessions, attachments and detachments can be quite eclectic. For example, the desire to draw compels me at times- an obsessive force that I cannot seem to reconcile with, so I draw. I give in.  An attachment I have developed is drawing in a particular place with similar groups of people, yet am completely detached from their very existence.  I witnessed today some violence – and I imagine, this is a daily occurrence – its an everyday experience for some of these groups of children and people that I engage with on my weekly drawing.

So, explaining that briefly, I realise my other obsessions and attachments and question the healthiness of such things. Wouldnt it be fantastic to just let go to Love fully, and not worry about getting attached or obsessed with it, that when it arrives, its embraced, and when it goes, its gone. Maybe to return, and maybe to not.  I believe principally in the idea of letting go to it, though I wonder if my Ego can handle such a philosophy. From experience, it seems its still a long way to go. Rebuilding after love has gone from the system, or the potential of such a thing can take its toll on the soul.

Yet, I have little desire for material accumulation – I create and make art – and write, once done however, it seems I am looking for the next idea to make or create.  This seems at face value, to me, a process that I want to apply across the realm of emotional wants and needs. I wonder if that makes sense with my desire to create spaces where people can experience certain emotions. My obsession over the years with ‘sacred’ spaces – finding a place to meditate, to think, to contemplate, to be, etc. The sacredness of these spaces leave a particular attachment to me. Yet, I am detached from most ideas of spaces that engage my soul in a particularly challenging way – these spaces of contestation – for me has been mostly spaces where family tend to congregate en-mass and more and more, spaces where noise, arguments and domination take place. So despite having an obsession for all these sacred spaces – the one most important, I seem to be detached from. Whether this particular detachment is healthy, I am unsure.

Perhaps, its to do with my own desire for independence, or the particular emotions that are evoked are not necessarily ones that I want to repeat again..
I enjoy obsessing over the idea of the self-portrait, continually wanting to see myself through my art, possibly because the voyeur in me, or the narcissist in me is curious to see what I make of myself in the privacy of my space. I also consider this blog-space quite safe too, it allows for a non-judgement method of posting and processing ideas and drawings.  Quite possibly, the presentation structure also allows me to quickly edit the thoughts. I have little desire to be ‘daring’ and ‘radical’ in the posting of the blogs. Yet, I can’t help but post drawings that I do. An obsession that I deem relatively healthy.

Another obsession that I have, seem to be the persistence to continue on, despite the odds and sometimes not knowing when to stop.  So, there is a desire to do something beyond its usually accepted level and to push myself. I realise it maybe to seek validation in some ways, both from myself and my peers, in doing something meaningful and purpose-led. However, I will stop for now and revisit this post tomorrow. Maybe I will revise it and the drawing. img_6811



Dhaka: Reflections on relationships. In the instant.

Bangladesh, Life, Love, Railway Station, Reflections, Thoughts, Truth

It seems a bit far-fetched to think to about reflecting on relationships, especially as I have only lived 30 years of it so far. Yet, it is plausible that the experiences we have can and does shape the way we think, behave and react to the world around us.  Today, I sat at the station, and was drawing again, some of the usual people that I draw, and then a young mother with her new born child was about, I was somehow able to ask her to sit for a while with her child for me. here is a link to the drawing:

 Mother And Child 1

More importantly though, the past few weeks – my relationships have been tested. The idea of friendship, family, love, siblings, mentors, colleagues, partners etc. It seems I was somehow lumped into a space filled with the potential of all the relations becoming quite volatile  and all happening at the same time. It made no sense – had I attracted somehow this negative charge of emotions and an eruption of despair appeared? Maybe. I look deep within me, as I reflect now on today’s drawings – the most interesting of which, was the mother and child. I stop to appreciate again the very ability to have debates, discussions and arguments with those that I care about, even have giant differences with. The ability to love, and appreciate spending quality time with people that I care about. We never know really what will happen tomorrow, so cherishing today is important, as much as forward planning is.  I have never been fantastic at forward planning – I do a lot of it though it seems.  However, when the world turns upside down, and all these dynamic relations seem to have become charged, I realise that there is little I can do, other than be true to myself.

Love comes in quite a few guises, recognising them all takes time – and will continue to take time. Yet, conversations regarding emotions and feelings have been the theme of my last few weeks with friends and family. Quite possibly, a re-routing of the soul, or perhaps a liberating set of actions have been put in place. It is too early to tell, unwittingly, I am again exactly where I felt I wanted to be last, in the comfort of Dhaka. In familiar, chaotic sounds and spaces.

In the challenges that have been faced, I recognise one thing, that my willingness to hit the self-destruct button – OR, to put it more bluntly, put up a wall against any further emotional conversations (or potential damage) has not been activated – it came close a few times.  A passive aggressive trait possibly I picked up being in a relatively conservatively dysfunctional south asian family.  I recognise better now when there is attempts to throw in the mix emotional blackmail, guilt tripping the self, and more importantly, to jeopardise the souls potential growth by giving in to these quite horrible activities.  In the moments of sitting and drawing today, I realised that, some friends are right, that this too will pass. A new mantra that I have been able to pick up from a good friend – be grateful, be kind, be mindful – seems to do the trick a bit..

I sat, in awe of this young mother and her child, quite in my own head unable to process what it genuinely means to bring up a baby in the world in this environment. How scary it really must be. And what the fuck can a young mother, barely a child herself can do about it. I cannot ever understand really the nature of the mother in this instance – I can only reflect on my own chaotic relationship with my own mother, her struggles to bring us up as good human beings, and her sacrifices that she perhaps didnt have a choice to make at the time. I was accused of not caring enough many a times in my last trip to London, from friends and family.  I perhaps don’t know how to express that care in a tangible manner – for that, I know a blog post is never enough. It seems words are meaningless and empty at times. The labels we carry – the son that left the house, the friend that doesnt care, the sibling that is neglectful, leave marks, one stroke at a time.  I can’t possibly express in words ( as ironic as it sounds ) what it is to feel all those emotions of rejection all at the same time.

What would I want to feel? I imagine as all human beings – to be wanted, to be loved and to be cared for and to be able to do the same for others. I get it in abundance from my friends and family, so I dare not even think about complaining OR comparing.

Yet, here I am contemplating and reflecting on ideas of extreme unfairness, that a young mother is forced to bring up a child in a public environment, with little to no social protection, health care or support – with potentially little hope of a future for her child… I generalise. It brings forward dilemmas for my soul, in the directions to push.. The role for the artist seems quite twisted. I am not here to write a fundraising application to develop a social protection programme for those at extreme risk – yet, I can question, why isn’t that happening? Why aren’t those at extreme risks being cared for by the giant number of organisations that seem to expend huge amounts of aid money to do good – and what is i that I would want them to do? and who am I to demand such a thing in the first place? another do-gooder from abroad attempting to impose an idea about something or other, ultimately to fail and disappear back to where I have come from – licking my wounds.

My education, my social status, my gender, my passport – all play a giant role in my perceptions and experiences of the world and especially, in the small cosmos of the communities that I have interacted with in Bangladesh.  This check balance is difficult to maintain and I struggle with it in my own way.  My ability to articulate an idea, my inability to sometimes recognise my blindspots, or empathise, and more importantly to connect at the right time, means there is potential for uncomfortable encounters too. What can I do about that? I can do my best to be true as possible to myself and continue being reflexive in my work and personal life. Nothing more, nothing less. As I said to a young cousin a few months back when he questioned about my purpose in life – my answer was that it is to do good honest work – and we have been, on the whole, doing some wonderful things in our own way.

Its difficult to summarise, yet I will try.  Relationships on the whole are extremely dynamic and requires energy from all parties to work. When walls are set up, often they are difficult to take down – especially from my own experiences with people in my own relatively short past.  I have put up plenty of walls in the past, although there maybe little appetite to take those ones down – I don’t want to continue putting up walls in my soul ( How ironic, considering I co-run an architectural practice).  I am learning to accept that being vulnerable is not a sign of weakness, and being honest to yourself is important, and a lot of the times, things happen that are beyond your control, and thats OK too.  I do what I can. This too will pass.




London: Reflections on Love

Bangladesh, Love, Reflections, Thoughts

As raw as some of the ideas that oscillate around me whilst observing the reality of life in Dhaka, this reflection looks at the potentiality of the idea of Love as a force. It comes in and amidst the trauma and turmoil that seems to be a recurrence in some of the experiences I have had, but also, a reality that I am learning to embrace. Dare I post it was another thought I had. Fear runs amok in many guises.  Here goes anyways. Hope it resonates with others.  I will come back and reflect on this in a few days time.

It is a personal, sacred, painful and enlivening idea, it becomes something that allows the soul to soar new heights – and it also allows for total destruction in its path. It harks things back to the real, and it can render the intellectual capacity void.  It forces an idea, of deep rooted emotions being stirred and forced to reconcile with the reality of life. Making love work has always been a tough call for me.  Not sure if I have succeeded yet..

What is there to process in hindsight? Forgetting, remembering, experiencing, living on. To mourn, perhaps? to say goodbye? to challenge or question the very idea of why? Its purpose? its irrational nature to consume every aspect of thought. I don’t know much about it. I can’t draw it. I can just about string a few sentences that vaguely explains it. Can I dedicate to it? Can I stop and write poetry about it? I suppose not, nothing intelligible anyways. Drawing perhaps is the closest thing to it at the same time, despite knowing its limitations.  How would I go on to draw Love?

This force, continues to belittle, embarrass, scare and make me afraid at times. Yet, I chase it, seek it, bathe in its glory once found. Yet again, the contradiction is that, once found, what next? The obsession, the lust, the desires, how do they calm?  When it is a project, a drawing one, it becomes easy to see the results, to enjoy the process as it emerges and clarifies what it is.. And so even if it is momentary bliss, perhaps disconnected to everyday life, it has its place – elsewhere.  Perhaps the way I have created my everyday, is that this force can only occur in spectacular ways.  In drawing, in encounters, in conversations. It is not mundane, everyday. As much as I try to make it so. To normalise Love into a routine, to nurture it towards something else. It leaves me clueless, and continues to raise questions for my soul. Yet, love is found in the everyday, it is all encompassing, it absorbs and behaves in a way that is in its nature, volatile and chaotic. And yet still, it is also peace, tranquil, still in moments that often seem irrelevant, but make that difference.

Is this force, the only thing that matters? the only thing, once found, is worth holding onto? How is that possible? It requires some pragmatism, it requires acceptance. I often seek it elsewhere, in nature, in meditation, amongst friends and family, its deeply within us too.  We are capable of loving and being loved. So, I push, seek and engage, continuing to seek it inwardly, through this intense process of questioning what it is to love and be loved, how to reconcile these ideas into concrete reality, into art, into experiences.. and, outwardly when it happens, is special and to be cherished. Celebrated if found in connection to another. The frustrations that occur are often self-created. To fall in love is perhaps magical, powerful and forces growth in ways unimaginable.  I question purpose of life and how often my drawing aims to capture, engage with it.