27 September 2009
In a quiet working-class neighborhood of Clifton Heights, a group of artists and
entrepreurs from Bangladesh have set up an art gallery and photo framing center. It
may only be a store, but it contains a big dream.
Three Bangladeshi – Americans have been working quietly on this project for the
past several months. Abul Fazal, a trained photographer, has long dreamt about a
little place like this of his own. Three years ago, he came close to owning one, but a
partnership deal fell through and his dream got whacked. Last year, two well-known
community activists joined Abul Fazal in giving it another try. One of them, Syed
Tipu Sultan, a pharmacist, has been active in environmental awareness in his native
Bangladesh. He is also one of the early organizers of literacy and cultural projects for
newly arrived Bangladeshi immigrants, mainly in his Queens neighborhood. The third of
the trio, Wadud Bhuiyan, a dentist, has long been involved in local community activism.
While Abul Fazal finessed the artistic aspects of the project, the others provided the
much needed financial muscle and marketing push.
The gallery, launched in a simple ceremony on Sunday, 27 September by Clifton
Heights Mayor Joe Kelly, will host international art shows and sell quality art works at
bargain prices for local art collectors. The first such show, now on display until the
end of November, is an eclectic collection of traditional and modernistic art works by
painters from Bangladesh. Many of them are internationally known, though this is the
first time for US viewers to get a glimpse of their work. Mayor Kelly, after a preview
of the art works, declared, he knew nothing about Bangladesh’s art, but now, after
seeing it first hand, would like to pay a little closer attention. “These are fine art works,
something I can understand and appreciate,” he said. His views were shared by
State Senator Greg Vitali and local borough council president Anthony Casadi. Both
of them said they look forward to visiting the gallery many more times in the coming
weeks. Local police chief Walter Sankao, who was seen enthusiastically inquiring about
the meaning of certain art works, said this was a great learning experience for him.
“Something new everyday,” he mused.
Clifton Heights’ own resident artist Cliff Anderson, who with his wife was one of the first
to visit the gallery even before it was formally opened, was demonstrably excited about
having a proper art gallery in his neighborhood. “Art has no language, no boundaries.
It is the most universal thing,” he said.
Mr. Sultan could not agree more. He told the small group of art enthusiasts, who
appeared enjoying Bangladeshi delicacies following the inauguration of the art show,
that this was the first step towards breaking the walls that often stand as barriers
between various ethnic and cultural groups. “We will use the language of art to build
friendship and to create better understanding between Americans and immigrant
communities,” he said. The next major art show they are planning, Mr. Sultan said,
will represent China. The store will also offer handicrafts from Bangladesh and other
parts of the world. “We hope this will be a little window to the immense diversity that our
cultures bring to this country,” Mr. Sultan said.
Dr. Bhuiyan, echoing his partner’s enthusiasm, said they have big plans in the
works. This store will help generate employment and also bring in tax dollars for the
community. They hope someday this gallery will be able to provide scholarships for art
students from Bangladeshi and other communities.
Thus, what once was a dream has now become a reality. Abul Fazal, the dreamer
behind the project, reminded everyone, it may only be a short step that they have taken,
but every giant leap begins with a baby step.