Cultural Paradise

 Our amazingly diverse, beautiful and awe inspiring world is the result of the combined works of nature and human creativity

I am on the left in the picture below and you can see a Bolivian indigenous Aymara couple wearing traditional Bangladesh costumes, gift from me to promote friendship between Bangladesh and Aymara Indigenous people, one of the native peoples of the world, marginalised for too long.

Powers of Festivals Exhibition

A taster initial and developing exhibition

The 'Powers of Festivals' exhibition is about how festivals are utilised by minorities and native peoples around the world to survive, develop confidence and build their capacities. I started this initiative with the aim of documenting, understanding and sharing how communities, especially minorities and native peoples, many of whom around the world have been undermined for too long, use their cultural traditions and creativity in public celebratory events to overcome barriers and develop capacities and strengths.

Arts and cultures are the foundations of festivals. Public celebratory events provide an opportunity for communities to use their own cultural traditions and artistic creativity to showcase their collective achievements, develop internal unity / pride and achieve a more confident engagement with outsiders.

Although there are potentially many hundreds or even thousands of minorities and native peoples that one can choose from, I decided to cover about half a dozen destinations around the world. In this regard I undertook very short visits to four festivals around the world - Kuta Karnival in Bali, Oruro Festival in Bolivia, Boisabi festivals in Bangladesh's Chittagong Hill Tracts and Nottinghill Carnival in London - to develop and curate a taster initial exhibition on 'Powers of Festivals' to get feedback and assess potential interest and value of such a venture. I delivered the taster exhibition at the Brady Arts Centre during May 2012 which covered the four above festivals that I have already visited. I have now starting working on a major international 'Powers of Festivals' exhibition. In this regard I plan to cover festivals of several other peoples around the world - Goans in India, Navajo Nation in USA and Aboriginals of Australia, and also go back to places that I have already visited to undertake additional and more in-depth pieces of work.

Throughout history and especially during the last few hundred years many communities and nations around the world faced existential threats and some of them have even been on the verge of extinction through external genocidal efforts. The Native peoples of North and South America, Aboriginals of Australia and Maoris of New Zealand are the largest such groups who faced unprecedented outside threats. All their lands were taken by strong organised states that systematically brought new settlers and pushed the indigenous peoples out of their traditional lands, often using extreme violence and committing genocides. The end result has been the shameful reduction of native populations and their confinement to small areas.

Those who have managed to survive have been suffering from disorientation, extreme poverty, isolation and without a voice in the world arena for centuries. However, in recent times some positives signs of recovery are beginning to be seen and the election of Juan Evo Morales as the president of Bolivia in December 2005 is an inspiration that such communities can look to a better future. He is the country's first indigenous head of state since the Spanish Conquest 470 years ago and hopefully this is the start of a new beginning and new future for all native peoples around the world.

There are also communities who have become minorities because of the incorporation of their traditional lands into bigger countries who faced and continue to face existential threats. For example, within Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh there live a number of ethnic and indigenous communities, who are very different from Bengali people. They have colourful traditions and rich cultures. They face threats from an ever increasing number of Bengali settlers moving into their traditional lands.

Living in multi-cultural London allows one to experience a variety of cultures that co-exist and festivals that take place in the diverse city. Festivals in London help build community unity and provide an opportunity for people to know and enjoy each other’s cultures and cuisines. Public festivals also help vulnerable minorities to preserve and feel proud of their traditions / cultures and promote greater levels of synthesis through inter-mixing.

My Amazing Bangladeshis Challenge 2011

The 'Powers of Festival's exhibition initiative is also linked to my Amazing Bangladeshi Challenge 2011 to celebrate 40 years of the birth of Bangladesh. In December 2010 Brick Lane Circle, an organisation where I serve as the company secretary, launched the initiative and challenged all Bangladeshis to do something amazing during 2011. Many individuals responded to this call. I chose, as my challenge, to go around the world to cook Bangladeshi food and take traditional Bangladeshi costumes as gifts for native peoples and minorities around the world to promote friendship between Bangladesh and them. I decided to combine my challenge with my plan to develop the 'Powers of Festival' exhibition by making my visits during times of major festivals.

Bangladeshi food cooking in Bali

I went to Bali in March 2011 for my first Amazing Bangladeshi Challenge as a pilot to experiment my cooking abilities. When I got to Bali I made contacts with potential individuals and groups to give my Bangladeshi banquette, including Putu Witsen, founder of the Bali Mepantigan Arts - Balinese Martial Arts Dance, to . I first met Putu two years previously after watching one of their performances on Kuta beach, about my challenge and when I informed him of my challenge, he suggested I cook for his team and use the kitchen in is house to prepare the food, which I accepted very gladly. Putu and his wife Ayu helped me with the cooking.

As I only eat halal food Putu arranged for chickens to be slaughtered in the appropriate Islamic way. I cooked chicken biryani, fish pyazu, prawn korma, dim bharta (crushed boiled eggs with onions, chilies and salt), chicken curry and shemai (desert). About two weeks later when I was in Bangladesh Putu sent me an email saying 'hello brother, last Sunday my wife cooked byrani, chicken with rice, ala Banglo'.

Bangladeshi food cooking in La Paz Bolivia

In February 2012 I was able to go to La Paz in Bolivia, experience the amazing Oruro Festival and cook Bangladeshi food for a group of Aymara Indigenous people. A very helpful English lady called Emma Donlan, who lives in La Paz, made all the arrangements for me. She was introduced to me by Sandra Kabir, an equally helpful lady who lives in London. I informed Emma that I only eat halal food so she and her husband Rolando kindly arranged four live chickens for me to slaughter in the Islamic way. I cooked chicken biryani, fish pyazu (fish from Amazonia), prawn korma, aubergine / spinach, dim bharta (crushed boiled eggs with onions, chilies and salt) and shemai (desert).

I am on the middle in the picture above and you can see Putu and wife Ayu wearing traditional Bangladeshi costumes, gift from me to promote friendship between Bangladesh and Balinese people, a very small tiny minority group within Indonesia who have used their unique public displays of arts and cultures and elevated their status far beyond their size