I was born around 3 am in my hilltop ancestral home in Sylhet, about five minutes away from the Surma river. Sylhet is located in eastern Bangladesh, and is known for its tea gardens and Sufi shrines. Born to a family of poets and mystics in Sylhet, I was exposed early on to religious studies, classical Indian music, and the martial art of Kung Fu.
At age 10, I left my extended family and emigrated to Queens, New York, where I was reduced to a person of no significance. I was often bullied, and laughed at whenever I would proclaim my importance. They did not understand my significance. One time, these kids picked me up and tried to throw me into a trash can, but thanks to my Kung Fu skills, they failed.
I was taken to museums around New York as part of my education, and I thought it was weird that people of my background did not make art. It was only later that I found out that this was the propaganda the powers that be wanted me to think. I saw Tayeba Begum Lipi’s art work in the Guggenheim, and also was introduced to Shahidul Alam by my professor James Estrin of the New York Times Lens Blog.
In High School, I fit in with the skateboarder kids in my freshmen year. They used to call me SpitFire and Chambers for my quick reflex Hackisack skills. But after 9/11, they changed my name to Osama bin Hackin’, and I started identifying myself more with the Muslim and Bangladeshi kids. But then I read a hadith by Prophet Mohammed where he said, “It is better for one of you to fill their stomach with pus than poetry.” That made me think twice. But of course, now I know what he meant. I will explain it to you another time.
I smoked a lot of weed, dropped acid, ate mushrooms in college. I wrote about these experiences in a journalism class in Lehman College. Margot Mifflin asked me to apply to CUNY Grad School of Journalism. I wanted to follow my friend John Paul Infante into the New School MFA program, but they didn’t accept me. So I ended up in J School. You can find out more about educational qualifications in the History section.
For my internship at Grad School, I transplanted myself to Dhaka and interned for Shahidul at Drik. I came back to New York and organized an exhibition called Eyes On Bangladesh. After a year of travelling the United States with Fritz Hoffmann for National Geographic, I got a boring job as a Photo Editor at CBS News. And boredom is not a good friend. It makes you get into all sorts of trouble specially when you’ve got an addictive personality. So I decided to pack up and move to Bangladesh.
There I worked as the coordinator for Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography. And started focusing more on taking photographs. And after a while, I decided that I did not need to be limited to any medium, and I can do whatever I want. Someone asked me to curate a show, but I decided to put on my own exhibition. And that’s when I stepped into the role of artist.
Munem Wasif and Tanzim Wahab were people I was looking up to and working closely with. I also met Arfun Ahmed, Samsul Alam Helal, Tapash Paul and Akram Hosasin. Around the same time I met Ayesha Sultana. We got married within a year. I lived a happy life in Dhaka for four years. I lived and breathed art for four years straight. I also started exploring the mystical dimensions.
A lot of dramatic stuff that happens as you reach 30 started happening around my life. I started travelling to Varanasi and other parts of India. I didn’t really meet any gurus like Ram Dass and those guys did. The closest thing to a guru was this guy I met in Lalon’s shrine in Kushtia and he answered a few things for me, but that was way back in 2012. I went away to a place outside of Dhaka with Arfun Ahmed. After ten days of complete silence and isolation, I reached for the first time the first layers of what many call enlightenment. I disconnected from my mind and body. I realized for the first time that I am not who I thought I was all this time. Arfun also realized something, but he was convinced that this was all a bullshit way of actually embracing a higher ego, in the process of trying to get rid of your ego.
I can’t explain the rest to you in words. And I don’t really like talking about it too much because it confuses people and stresses me out. But I guess you can look at my art and try to get something out of it.
Now I’m back in New York, and I’m working on sharing my work and getting people to buy my art so that I can have enough money to go back and build my sanctuary in my ancestral home. There will be a pond with a lot of fish, vegetable gardens, flowers of all smells, a big working studio, and lots of room for people to come stay in.
Maybe I will see you there.