It was more than three decades ago that Bengal Foundation embarked upon its journey to project a culturally rich Bangladesh. Born out of the Chairman and Founder Abul Khair’s personal regard for the arts, instilled in him by his uncle and National Professor Abdur Razzaq, the Foundation presently runs several programmes on music, art, literature, crafts, cinema, and architecture.
The Foundation was set up on the belief that exposure to the arts can lend a certain enlightenment which not only inspires compassion, but elevates the quality of life and contributes to the betterment of society as a whole.
At the heart of the Foundation is the desire to create awareness in, and encourage the practice of the arts, in all its varied forms. Bengal Foundation operates purely for the benefit of the public and has pursued the policy of making all its endeavours free and open to all since its inception. It works to conserve tradition; allow diversity, evolution and growth from within; and disseminate processes, techniques, information and knowledge about the arts in order to empower, and instil confidence. Bengal Foundation’s main objectives are to conserve tradition, support cultural diversity, evolution and growth, as well as to uphold a positive image of Bangladesh by highlighting its cultural wealth.
Bengal Foundation is independently and solely funded by the efforts and means of the Board of Trustees and does not accept donations locally or abroad.
Gyantapas Abdur Razzaq
A legendary scholar, a nurturing mentor and a distinctive and inspiring presence in the intellectual and cultural landscape of the country for many decades, Abdur Razzaq’s vision is at the very heart of the Bengal Foundation. Referred to as Gyantapas, or one who seeks knowledge, Abdur Razzaq was the first person to earn the title National Professor of Bangladesh.
He was an extraordinary human being who touched everyone with his graciousness and humanity, humility and integrity, and his simple lifestyle and infectious laughter. Moreover, in his opposition to military regimes of the period, he became notable for his firm support of the movements and forces that demanded democracy, autonomy and social justice for the people.
However, beyond everything else, Abdur Razzaq was known for his fervent dedication to the cause of education in the country, and his abiding faith in critical thinking, moral clarity and academic excellence. Remembered as a mentor and a teacher of teachers he has been a monumental influence on some of the best minds of the country and the cornerstone of the Bengal Foundation.
Founder Trustee and Chair
An entrepreneur and industrialist, Abul Khair, known to his friends as ‘Litu’, started business in the early seventies. He is the Chairman of Bengal Group Ltd. He and his partners set up the first private bank in Bangladesh, the AB Bank, in 1981.
Khair graduated from Dhaka University in 1972. He is a publisher of books and periodicals. His interest in the art and culture of Bangladesh was sparked off by his uncle – Professor Abdur Razzaq, an eminent academic and social scientist.
As part of his endeavour to promote and showcase Bangladeshi art on a larger platform, Litu set up the Bengal Foundation in 1986. He was the president of Abahoni Sporting Club from 1982-87. He also founded Gyantapas Abdur Razzaq Foundation and many other non-profit ventures.
There can be no better means of ensuring a bonding of people, of bringing them together, than through cultural exchange. The aesthetic sensibility and creative urge that come together in the arts are surely the ingredients that foster ties between societies, and greatly assist in the promotion of all those attributes that strengthen humanity.
It has been two decades since Bengal Foundation emerged in the country’s cultural scene. All this time we have striven, through continuous nurture and practice, to conserve various strands of our culture and by extension, expand its scope. Ours is a humble endeavour that has consistently sought to create a positive difference.
We sincerely acknowledge the debt of gratitude owed to artists, singers, musicians, craftspersons, stage artists, performers, organisers, activists, writers, critics and all those who have believed in and stood by us all these years. Our journey would have been untenable without the dedication, hard work and ingenuity of each member of the Bengal Foundation team.
We fondly remember those members who are no longer with us but continue to enrich the institution with their legacy.
Syed Manzoorul Islam
Syed Manzoorul Islam is Emeritus Professor of the University of Dhaka. He is also attached to the English and Humanities Department of the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh. An award-winning fiction writer and art critic, Islam has curated exhibitions of Bangladesh art in UK, India and Iran. His areas of interest include Shakespeare, Modern Poetry and Fiction, Literary Theory, Postmodernism and Post-Colonialism and Translation. Islam is a noted column writer and an occasional political analyst. Islam is the chair of the editorial board of the literary magazine Kali O Kalam.
Ahrar Ahmad has taught political science at Black Hills State University in South Dakota for almost 25 years, and retired in 2016 as Emeritus Professor. He is a member of the executive board of the Gyantapas Abdur Razzaq Foundation in Dhaka, an organisation dedicated to excellence in research and learning. Ahmad has authored and edited several important books on governance and political history including Society, State, Evolution: Gyantapas Abdur Razzaq Distinguished Lecture Series (Dhaka: Bengal Publications, 2019) and ‘Political Parties in India’ (Dhaka, UPL, 2021). Ahmad continues to teach in the US.
Fakrul Alam is a professor of English at the University of Dhaka. A renowned academician, researcher and translator, his works on postcolonial literature and Rabindranath Tagore have established him as one of the foremost intellectuals of Bangladesh. He is currently serving as the first Director of the ‘Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Research Institute for Peace and Liberty’. One of his most important works is the translation of Bangabandhu’s ‘The Unfinished Memories’ (Aushomapto Attojiboni) into English.
Dr. Shafquat Hussain Khundkar
Founder Trustee and Member
Dr. Khundkar is a leading plastic surgeon in Bangladesh. In his long and distinguished career, he founded the country’s first plastic surgery residency program at the Dhaka Medical College. He was the president of the Society of Surgeons of Bangladesh. Since 1990, Dr. Khundkar has worked with Interplast, a global humanitarian effort to uplift the lives of impoverished children. He is currently a senior consultant at Square Hospitals.
Shah Sayed Kamal
Founder Trustee and Member
A valiant freedom fighter, Kamal joined the Liberation War at the age of seventeen. He graduated from Dhaka University and started business in the mid-seventies. An art patron and collector, Kamal is associated with several sociocultural organisations. Currently he is an Executive Committe member of the France-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industries.
Kazi Khaleed Ashraf
Kazi Khaleed Ashraf is a Bangladeshi architect, urbanist and architectural historian. Writing from the intersection of architecture, landscape and the city, Ashraf has authored books and essays on architecture in India and Bangladesh, the work of Louis Kahn, and the city of Dhaka. He edited ‘The Great Padma’ (Oro Publications, 2023) which is considered the first comprehensive book on the River Padma. Ashraf is serving as the Director-General of the Bengal Institute for Architecture, Landscapes, and Settlements, in Dhaka.
Mohammad Shah Alam Sarwar
A successful banker, Mohammad Shah Alam Sarwar sits in the board of several companies. He is currently serving as the CEO, MD and Director at IFIC Bank Plc, and Managing Director at Beximco Group. Sarwar received a graduate degree from the University of Dhaka and an MBA from Victoria University, Australia.
Luva Nahid Choudhury
Founder Trustee and Member
Choudhury joined Bengal Foundation in 1998 and is currently its Director-General. She is a Vice-President (South Asia) of the World Crafts Council, and a member of the executive committee of Friendship NGO. She has served in the governing board of BRAC (2009-2018). An architect by training, Choudhury served in the Ministry of Public Works for ten years, and heads an architecture practice. She is a member of the editorial boards of several arts and literary periodicals. She received the Anannya Shirsha Dash Award in 2015 and the Brand Forum Award, among others, for her contribution in the arts.
An acclaimed architect and thinker, Marina Tabassum won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture for the design of Bait-ur-Rouf Mosque in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2016. In 2020, Tabassum was listed by Prospect as the third-greatest thinker for the COVID-19 era, with the magazine writing, “At the forefront of creating buildings in tune with their natural environments, this Bangladeshi architect is also embracing the design challenges posed by what we are collectively doing to the planet.” She is the first South Asian to receive the ‘Lisbon Triennale Lifetime Achievement Award’ (2022).
After teaching English abroad since 1992, Zeenat Chowdhury moved to Bangladesh and brought her knowledge and love for literature, and education to actively pursue the promotion of Bangladeshi writers opting to write in English as Director of Bengal Foundation’s Publication wing. She has jointly worked with Skira Editore based in Milan, on the Contemporary Masters and Great Masters Series of Bangladeshi artists, as well as other world-class monographs. A culinary aficionado, Chowdhury owns and runs companies owning several eateries in the capital.
Founder Trustee and Member
Nawshin Khair is a fashion designer and owns ‘Paera’. A graduate of Richmond University, London, she is the Managing Director, of the fair trade label Aranya, and the social business, bCraft Initiatives. Furthermore, Nawshin Khair is the Country Coordinator, and advisor of the Global Committee of Fashion Revolution
Mumtaz Khaliq (1932 – 2021)
A social activist, gourmet cook, and a self-taught artist, Mumtaz Khaliq, spent most her life in charitable work. She was involved with many sociocultural organisations. She was a trustee of Bengal Foundation and Gyantapas Abdur Razzaque Foundation, and the founder of Abdul Khaliq Memorial School.
Ruby Ghuznavi (1935-2023)
Ruby Ghuznavi is credited with reviving the use of natural dyes in Bangladesh. As Chairperson of the World Crafts Council-Asia Pacific Region’s Natural Dye Programme, she worked closely with experts of the region to promote the use of natural dyes. A rights activist, she was a member of Naripokkho, and Founder Trustee of Transparency International Bangladesh. She was president and founder member of the National Crafts Council of Bangladesh. Ghuznavi founded Aranya Crafts in 1990.
National Professor Dr. Anisuzzaman (1937 – 2020)
An eminent scholar, academician and a leading authority in Bengali literature; Anisuzzaman received the Ekushey Padak in 1985 for his contribution to education. In 2014, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India and in 2015 the Government of Bangladesh conferred on him the Shadinata Purashkar for literature. He had a long and distinguished career as a professor in the Department of Bengali, University of Dhaka. Anisuzzaman was chair of the board of trustees of Gyantapas Abdur Razzaq Foundation, and the editorial boards of the Bengali literary magazine Kali O Kalam and the arts periodical Jamini.
Abul Hasnat (1945 – 2020)
Noted poet, journalist, writer and arts commentator Abul Hasnat had a long and distinguished career in the newspaper industry. He was actively associated with the Afro-Asian Writers Forum, Gono Shahitto Patrika, International Theatre Institute, Chhayanaut and several other leading cultural organisations. Hasnat received the Agrani Bank Shishu Sahitya Puroshkar in 1982, the Reporter’s Unity Freedom Fighter Award in 1996, and the Bangla Academy Fellowship in 2013. His years in the Bengali daily, Sangbad, was followed by editorship of the literary monthly Kali O Kalam and the arts quarterly Shilpa O Shilpi. He was the Executive Director of Bengal Publications. His book Prottoyi Smriti O Onnanno received the Munier Chowdhury Puroshkar at the Ekushey Boimela in 2020.
Subir Choudhury (1950-2014)
A foremost arts organiser, Subir Choudhury graduated from the Institute of Fine Arts and joined the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy. As the Director there, he steered the National Art Exhibition, Young Artists Exhibition, and most importantly, Asian Art Biennale, the last being Bangladesh’s very first attempt to organise a large-scale international art event. These efforts would have a lasting impact on the country’s art scene. Choudhury became Director at Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts, where he joined in 2004. Through relentlessly organising exhibitions, workshops, talks, creating opportunity for young artists, and building regional networks, he continued to play a key role in the evolution and regeneration of the art movement.