Interview with Talha Bin Shams, artist, graphic designer and graduate of the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin

Tanvir Ahmed Parash

The Team of the Chamber’s blog present another interview with an interesting person. This time we interviewed Talha Bin Shams – a Banglian, artist, graphic designer, graduate of Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin.

  1. Tell us a bit about you? Who are you, where are you from?

Hi!! My name is Talha Bin Shams and I am from Bangladesh. I came to Poland in November 2019 to pursue my masters studies (MA) in Intercultural communication in education and the workplace program at the Maria Curie Skłodowska University in Lublin. And I graduated this October 2021 from the university.

I was born in the northern town of Sayedpur in Bangladesh. Before coming to Poland I completed my bachelor’s in Fine arts and majored in graphic design and painting in Bangladesh. Then I pursued my first postgraduate study in Social Science at the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh. I have worked as a school teacher for 8 years in Bangladesh; I have also worked in advertising companies, art galleries, and daily newspapers in the capital city of Bangladesh. I have volunteered in different kinds of social causes, disaster management programs such as relief for cyclone-affected victims with some local NGOs as well. I love making paintings, graphics and designing clothes. I mostly love working with our traditional Bengali folk culture and folk art forms very much and I have presented Bangladeshi folk culture and folk art forms through my artworks at several art exhibitions in Poland and Bangladesh.

  1. What was your dream when you went to school?

I didn’t have any particular dream when I was going to school. It kept changing over the years! But I always had a significant interest in arts, photography, making paintings, and filmmaking. Seeing my interest in art my mother used to take me to different art competitions to participate and I guess that’s how my interest started to grow.

  1. What was your parents’ reaction when they got to know that you want to become an artist?

Both of my parents are well educated so they had some ideas about the possibilities. They didn’t overreact like most of the other Bangladeshi parents would probably react but they were definitely worried about my future for sure. Because it’s not easy to make a living through art in a country like Bangladesh at all.

  1. Why decision on leaving Bangladesh?

I always wanted to pursue my higher studies abroad to develop myself, to develop my skills, and leave my comfort zone, take new challenges, learn new things about new cultures, and grow as a human being. I also needed a break from our Bengali patriarchal society which was very important for me at that period.

  1. Why Poland?

I think I finally decided to come to Poland because of my university mainly. My primary goal was to get admission to one of the best public universities and, UMCS is one of the best universities in Europe, not only in Poland. Including Poland, I also applied to a few other universities for a few other countries in Europe but my university in Lublin was always the quickest to reply, affordable and extremely helpful and supportive throughout the entire admission and visa process, plus living cost in Poland is much affordable than a lot of other EU countries.

  1. What did you know about Poland before coming here?

Unfortunately not much but I knew that Poland is one of the stunningly beautiful countries in Europe, Poles are a proud nation and, I knew that Polish is one of the hardest languages on earth but, I will have to learn the language if I am going to live in Poland!

  1. What was your first impression here?

My first impression was about the differences between the weather. I came to Poland at the end of November in 2019 during a cold winter day and, when I arrived at the Warsaw international airport around 03:20 PM then suddenly within the next few minutes, it all became completely dark and I had never seen this before that sunlight can be gone so early during the day!  Because even during the cold winter days in Bangladesh we usually have sunlight until 05: 00 PM. And I might be wrong but I felt that poles are very reserved and macho kind of people in a good way!

  1. What places have you seen here?

I have seen quite a few places in Poland by now and, to me, Krakow and Kazimierz Dolny is one of the most stunningly beautiful places in Poland! Though I know there are so many incredible places which I haven’t been able to visit yet but I hope to visit them soon. Such as I would love to see the Tatra Mountains, Zakopane, Gdansk, and a few other places too.

  1. Tell us about your projects you are running now.

Currently, I am looking for a job as I just completed my studies but in the meantime, I am working on a few paintings, I also give online Bangla lessons to a few polish people and, I am trying to build an online platform on Facebook and Instagram primarily where I want to introduce Polish culture, cuisine and beautiful places of Poland to the Bangladeshi and Bengali audiences all over the world and also Bangladeshi culture, cuisine and beautiful places of Bangladesh to Polish and European people through some intercultural fun pieces of stuff. Such as some interesting articles, stories of intercultural relationships, photos, videos, etc.

  1. What do you want to do next? What are the plans?

I never think about anything in advance actually, so therefore I never really had or have any specific plans about anything in life. I just always knew what I would like to do and what I don’t want to do and I just go with my intuitions. For now, I want to get a job somewhere to support myself, at the same time I want to keep creating more art, maybe some more exhibitions somewhere if I get more opportunities and also I would like to keep working on the online platform which I am trying to build. And if everything goes well then in the next year I might apply for Ph.D. studies or some further studies related to my educational background if I find a better opportunity somewhere.

  1. Would you like to stay in Poland or come back to Bangladesh?

For now, I would like to stay in Poland and get some more experience before making any final decision.

  1. What are 3 things that come to mind when a Bangladeshi hears “Poland”?

Well, the three things which might come to a Bangladeshis mind when they hear ‘Poland’ can be,

A) Its too cold!

B) Do they speak in English there or not?!

C) Beautiful country!

13. How is it to grow up in Bangladesh? What is the biggest struggle? 

Well growing up in Bangladesh depends a lot on the society, culture, and the place you are born into. Because Bangladesh is a multicultural country, so every culture has its own society which is different from one another. I was born into a traditional Bengali Muslim family, both of my parents are observant Muslims but at the same time they are open-minded, well educated and they hold cultural values close to their hearts, so I had a very positive upbringing.

For me, the biggest struggle was to accept and try to adjust to the way our Bengali society functions since I was a child because it is a heavily patriarchal society that uses religion as its main shield in all the aspects of life and where men play the role of God! It is true that compared to many societies in the entire subcontinent Bengalis are more progressive but at the same time, the struggle with patriarchy and religious fundamentalism is always there!

We have more than 45 indigenous groups living within the country who have their own culture and society. And most of those indigenous societies are not patriarchal and more tolerable. Even in some of those societies, women are the head of the household and all the men work under women’s supervision.

  1. What do you miss the most here in Europe?

My family, our food, and the warmth of our people I miss the most in Europe! I miss my parents a lot because it has been a very long time that I haven’t seen them and I miss our food a lot, especially my mother’s food and the other home-cooked dishes.

  1. What is the biggest difference between Bangladeshi mentality and European mentality you have noticed?

In my opinion, the biggest difference between Bangladeshi and European mentality is the timing sense and the educational success of an individual. Bengalis are quite laid back and because of that, they are often late for their personal or business meetings. Also for Bangladeshis, it’s essential, at least to have some kind of university degree to get a better job opportunity or to be respected well within the social setting. Europeans are punctual about their timing and, within European societies, it’s not a must to have a university degree or some kind of educational certificate to be respected or to have a job.

  1. Bangladesh is considered to be a country of tolerance. Last time we observed some tensions between Hindu minority and Muslim majority. Do you think such accidents will repeat in future?

I would like to believe that Bangladesh is still a country of tolerance because I think most of the citizens in Bangladesh want to live in communal peace and harmony with each other. I want to hope that this kind of incident will not repeat in the future anymore. But to maintain the peace and harmony between all the different communities within the country any kind of religious fundamentalism should be prohibited strictly by the government. People need to realize that they have to accept and respect each other’s differences and relearn to coexist to maintain a peaceful environment.

  1. What piece of advice would you give Polish investors that are thinking of investing in Bangladesh? What Polish products you reckon would be a hit in Bangladesh?

Bangladesh has a strong consumer demand and, the consumer goods market, ranging from white goods and clothes to fintech, is growing fast. So it can be a very good market for polish investors for sure. Although some critical challenges might prevent the investors from making long-term commitments such as lack of communication between regulatory bodies, inconsistencies in policy implementation, and sometimes the bureaucracy. But the current government is closely working on these issues and they seem to be committed to making the situation better for foreign investors. In my opinion, Polish dairy products, fruits, furniture, cosmetics, vehicles, and different types of white goods would be a hit in the Bangladeshi market for sure.

  1. Are there any books or novels that you would recommend to read for a person who is interested in Bangladesh culture?

Well, there are many actually but, I would highly recommend reading the poetry and novels of ‘Jibanananda Das’, ‘Manik Bandopaddhay’, ‘Jasim Uddin’, ‘Sufia Kamal’, ‘Zahir Raihan’, ‘Ahmed Sofa’, ‘Munir Chowdhury’, ‘Syed Waliullah’ & ‘Anwar Pasha’ to get a clear image of Bangladeshi culture.

  1. The same question about movies and music.

As Bangladesh is a land of multiple cultures which are very traditional, so our movies and music are also culturally rich. It is hard to mention only a few but I will try my best to mention some of the amazing movies from the seventies till the present. Such as ‘Nil Akasher Nichay’, ‘Jibon Theke Neya’, ‘Lalsalu’, ‘Podda Nodir Majhi’, ‘Guerrilla’, ‘Aguner Poroshmoni’, ‘Chutir Ghonta’, ‘Shongkhonil Karagar’, ‘Surjo Dighal Bari’,  ‘Golapi Ekhon Traine’, ‘Sareng Bou’, ‘Matir moina’, ‘Poka Makorer Ghorboshoti’ ‘Bhat dey’ & ‘Debi’. In my opinion from these movies one can have some idea about the Bangladeshi culture.

And the music of some legendary musicians such as Shah Abdul Karim, Azam Khan, Runa Laila, Ayub Bachchu, James, Lucky Akhand, Subir Nandi, Shayan Chowdhury Arnob, Nilufar Yasmin, and Rezwana Choudhury Bannya can be a great source to learn about Bangladeshi music.

  1. Bangladesh is unknown to polish tourists. There are no offers to visit your country. Why is that? What would you suggest to visit when in Bangladesh?

I agree that unfortunately Bangladesh is unknown to polish tourists and likewise Poland is also unknown to Bangladeshi tourists. I don’t know the possible reason behind this but probably because of the lack of interest or communication between the two countries travel and tourism authorities or industry might be the unfortunate reason.

If someone truly wants to experience Bangladeshi food, culture, and incredible nature then there are plenty of incredible places to visit in the country. Though it would be hard for me to mention only a few I will try my best. Such as the southern mountains in the Chittagong-Bandarban region which incorporates the fascinating lifestyle, many incredible wild waterfalls and rich culture of the indigenous people, the longest unbroken sandy sea beach of the world located in Cox’s Bazar, Saint Martin, Sandip & Nijhumdeep Island, Shundarban in the Khulna division which is the largest mangrove forest in the world, northeastern tea states of the Sylhet region, the ancient city of Mahasthangar, ancient Buddhist monastery and temples in the north are the places I would highly recommend.

  1. For average European who got to know a little about your country – It’s impressive how strong position women have there: Sheikh Hassina, Khaleda Zia. Even Rokeya Day celebration shows that women are important in your country. What is your comment on that?

Of course, women are very important in my country as they are the womb of the universe so in my opinion, women are another source of life just like water. The situation of women in Bangladesh has been dependent upon numerous significant changes over the past few centuries. Bangladeshi women have made significant progress since the country’s independence in 1971, where women in the region experienced increased political empowerment for women, better job prospects, and increased opportunities for education and the adoption of new laws to protect their rights through Bangladesh’s policies in the last four decades. Still, women in Bangladesh continue to struggle to achieve equal status to men due to societal norms that enforce restrictive gender roles as well as poor implementation of laws that were set to protect women. As I mentioned before that the majority of the Bangladeshi society is patriarchal and men play the role of God, so we still have a long way to go.

  1. In your projects you say a lot about modern Bangladeshi society – issues with family, friends, sexual life, and roles in the society. What it’s struggles and chances for future?

In my opinion, the struggle is to accept and respect each other’s differences as an individual or a community. If people within the society can learn and realize the ultimate truth that true strength lies in unity & tolerance for each other’s differences only then they can bring positive changes for their future.

  1. In your opinion – 3 don’ts and 3 do-s when you are first time in Bangladesh.

3 don’ts probably be, not to smoke in the presence of elders, shaking hand is common but if you’re going to greet a woman then its best to wait to see if she extends her hand before doing so, Otherwise a slight bow of the head will do and avoid wearing shorts or skirts above the knees when in public since the society is moderately conservative.

And about the 3 do-s you can do whatever you want to, just be kind and gentle to the general people and they will show you the utmost love and respect. Bangladeshis are welcoming and warm people and, above all, they are genuine in their friendliness. They love treating the guests with their hearts open and you will be the center of attraction wherever you go in Bangladesh!

  1. What kind of help Bangladeshi expats in Poland might find helpful?

For sure the Bangladeshi expats in Poland need both social and workplace support from the polish nationals to go on with their daily lives here. And to succeed in their professional life they need huge support regarding the complex bureaucracy from the Polish legal system and polish government.

  1. Do you consider Bangla language worth learning?

Bangla is the 7th most spoken language across the world and, it is one of the sweetest languages as well yet too difficult to learn because of the complex grammar of the language. So learning Bangla can be challenging but worthy enough if someone wants to learn it for their business purpose or personal interest. As you probably know that Bangladesh is the producer of the second-largest garments in the world after China, so many business people around the world who want to establish their clothing business with Bangladesh or who are already working with the Bangladeshi clothing industry are getting interested to learn Bangla.

Picture: Tanvir Ahmed Parash