Maldives Pavilion at Venice Biennale split in “mini-coup d’etat”

The political strife gripping the Maldives has permeated the country’s first pavilion at the Venice Biennale art show, catalysing a behind-the-scenes split that ultimately factionalised the pavilion in what one side contends was a ‘mini-coup d’etat’.

What was initially intended to be an innocent story highlighting the creative climate change advocacy occurring through the pavilion’s artistic expression, instead revealed infighting and controversy stretching back to February 2012.

The official Maldives Pavilion exhibition is curated by a joint Arab-European collective of artists called the Chamber of Public Secrets (CPS), and commissioned by current Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adheeb.

The overarching theme of the Maldives’ pavilion, entitled “Portable Nation: Disappearance as a Work in Progress – Approaches to Ecological Romanticism”, is about how the survival of the nation, Maldivian people and cultural heritage are threatened by catastrophic climate change impacts, such as rising sea levels.

The unofficial pavilion, located 200 metres up the road, is the Maldives Exodus Caravan Show, curated by Danish artist and former resident of the Maldives Søren Dahlgaard and initially commissioned by former Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Maryiam Zulfa.

Deputy Curator of the Exodus Caravan Show, Elena Gilbert, told Minivan News that the some of the artists “recognising the necessity and urgency to focus on the current political and cultural unrest of the Maldives, and to provide solidarity with the majority of the population against the dictatorship”, split from the pavilion following February 7’s controversial transfer of power.

The rebel pavilion, Gilbert said, “presents a selection of works and
 performances from Maldivian and international artists in regards to an expanded conversation of climate.”

Dahlgaard told Minivan News he “initiated the original idea to have a Maldives National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2010, then presented this idea to former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Minister Zulfa,” Dahlgaard told Minivan News this week.

“In December 2011, Zulfa commissioned me to organise/curate this project – there was no money from the Maldivian government involved in this, I was to raise the finances for the project myself,” said Dahlgaard.

“But now the Maldives National Pavilion is a deeply problematic project, which represents the current coup regime. The artists are now puppets of the regime, whether they are aware of it or not,” he added.

Dahlgaard met with former President Mohamed Nasheed in Copenhagen, Denmark this April and discussed the Venice Biennale ‘proxy-coup’.

“Nasheed laughed when I told him about the coup of the Maldives National Pavilion by Khaled Ramadan, the CPS Danish-based Lebanese curator,” recounted Dahlgaard, “because this is of course peanuts in comparison to the fight Nasheed has gone through and is going through for democracy in Maldives.”

‘Hijacked’ pavilion

Dahlgaard explained that he wanted the project to be a collaborative effort and met with many people experienced with Biennales and large exhibitions, and said ultimately Khaled Ramadan and the CPS decided to join the project.

However, the partnership between Dahlgaard and Khaled began to fall apart following the controversial transfer of power which rocked the Maldives in February 2012.

“Khaled has hijacked the project and is now working closely with the coup regime and representing them in Venice,” said Dahlgaard. “Most of the artists in the Pavilion have not been told this story.”

“After the coup in Feb 2012, we decided to continue the planning of the project, since we were hoping the democratic party would be back in power by June 2013, in time for the opening of the Venice Biennale,” he said.

“If this was not the case, the plan was to clearly state that the Maldives National pavilion was representing the democratic Maldives and did not acknowledge the current coup regime,” he continued.

“You have to be aware of the situation you are part of, and this includes the political situation. The political context is very important… even a flower painting is political in the current context of the situation in Maldives,” he explained.

“So you can not ignore that, especially when dealing with an issue like climate change.”

Dahlgaard alleged  that instead of leaving the project, “Ramadan wanted to take control… But the only way he would do this was to jump into the pocket of the current regime in Maldives.”

“Khaled first went to the Venice Biennale office and told them that the commission I had was from the previous government, creating an issue around this so the Biennale Foundation would want a new letter,” said Dahlgaard.

“Then he proceeded to the Maldives, where he stayed for more than two months trying to get an appointment with people at the Ministry of [Tourism and] Culture,” he continued.

According to Dahlgaard, he and Ramadan were supposed to travel to the Maldives together in March 2013, but claimed Ramadan stopped communicating with him in late January.

“I don’t know what Ramadan said to Adheeb and the present Culture Ministry, probably along the lines that ‘Soren Dahlgaard is the son-in-law of [former Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmed] Naseem, is connected to President Nasheed, and therefore representing the opposition now’,” alleged Dahlgaard.

“Or that we had been talking about having a pavilion that would have free expression and be a platform for voices from the ground.”

Ultimately the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture issued a new letter of commission on April 8, 2013, declaring that “Dahlgaard is no longer associated with the Maldives Pavilion by any means” and “obliged” CPS and their representative Ramadan to “send regular reports on their activities to the ministry”.

The previous letter, issued by the ,inistry on March 5, 2013, confirmed that Dahlgaard alone was to be the “official organiser and curator” of the Maldives Pavilion.

“It’s a coup dictator regime that can say whatever they want [and] Adheeb is a horrible gangster,” alleged Dahlgaard.

“He only learned about the project when Khaled Ramadan came to Malé to explain to him that this is a big international cultural prestige project.”

Dahlgaard told Minivan News he believes the situation is “not about two guys having a power struggle”.

“I don’t want or need power or to be the boss; I was not kicking him out,” Dahlgaard said.

“I have nothing to hide and the truth must come out. I am not scared of Khaled’s crazy accusations,” he added. “I have no wish to damage anybody’s reputation. I will however defend myself against untruthful attacks from Khaled Ramadan.”

Nasheed knew nothing about the Biennale: Ramadan

CPS curator Khaled Ramadan and the producer of his documentary film, Abed Anouti, claimed former President Mohamed Nasheed “never knew anything about the pavilion not even till this very moment”.

“I met Mr Nasheed as an Arab journalist and I am sure he has no idea at all about the Maldives Pavilion at the Venice Biennale,” Ramadan said in a letter, sent to Minivan News and the Inter Press Service (IPS) following the publication of articles he felt were “full of errors and misinformation”.

Former President Nasheed told Minivan News on June 10 that “Soren has been working on [the pavilion] for a long time and has in many instances come to me and we have had many discussions about it. The last I heard about was when I was last in Denmark and it’s good he has been able to get the show on the road.”

No dispute

“The pavilion has never been part of any political dispute in the Maldives. It was independently curated from A to Z and different art councils from around the world financed the works of the invited artists,” Ramadan told Minivan News via email.

“In relation to the Venice Biennale, governments do not usually outsource such assignments,” he explained.

“Due to the prestigious nature of the biennale, governments commission professional curators by inviting them to help promote local artists and cultures.”

Ramadan claimed that the “entire project, concept, title, construction of website, design of social media, formulation and design of PR material, and all applications are the outcome of the CPS members, NOT Soren Dahlgaard in any respect.”

“He is incapable of contributing to any of the mentioned products,” Ramadan added. “Mr Dahlgaard has never been an inspiration to any of us in the group due to our academic backgrounds and level of art conduct.”

He alleged Dahlgaard “cheated his way into serious art arrangements like the Venice Biennale by obtaining a letter of commissioning via corrupt contacts and not according to qualifications.”

After the Venice Biennale office contacted the CPS about the March 2013 letter from the Maldives’ Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, which stated Dahlgaard was to be the sole organiser and curator of the Maldives Pavilion, “we immediately contacted the [Maldives’] Minister of Culture asking for an explanation,” said Ramadan.

He claims the letter Dahlgaard provided the Venice Biennale was a “corrupt letter” which Minister Adheeb “didn’t know anything about”.

“Therefore the minister ordered the total removal of Dahlgaard from the project… following an internal inquiry,” said Ramadan.

He said that the CPS’ collaboration with Dahlgaard ended when the Minister Adheeb “discovered that Mr Dahlgaard was misusing the Ministry’s name and was planning a secret pavilion”.

Contentious IPS article

The split at the biennale was first noted by an article on the Maldives Pavilion published on the Inter Press Service by journalist Ferry Biedermann.

Biedermann wrote that the pavilion, once the initiative of former president Mohamed Nasheed, “was almost abandoned after he resigned under hotly contested circumstances in February 2012.”

“The new government, with plenty of other issues demanding its attention, lost interest and allowed a joint Arab-European collective of curators, calling themselves Chamber of Public Secrets, to take over the pavilion and mount a show under the banner Portable Nation,” the journalist wrote.

He cited Maren Richter, an Austrian associate curator: “They did not care. They did not mind. They don’t believe in the power of art to affect anything anyway.”

Following the publication of the IPS article, referred to by Minivan News in an earlier story on the pavilion controversy, Ramadan and Anouti wrote a letter to both publications accusing Biedermann of “misuse and misinterpretation of our artistic intentions” to “score a journalistic sensation”.

“Our work in the Maldives Pavilion is an independent and positive project that focuses on climate issues in global context while addressing the Maldives as a case study,” the pair stated.

“The article by Ferry Biedermann published at IPS is full of miss information. Mr Ferry NEVER interviewed anyone from the Maldives Pavilion, his claims stand for his own account. He has no sound recording, email correspondence, footage or even photos from the curators of the pavilion to support his claims,” they alleged.

Minivan News put the allegations to Biedermann, who replied he was “puzzled more than anything else by how brazen Mr Anouti is in his attack from the very first line.”

“Unfortunately for him, he immediately makes the grave mistake of saying something that can be easily disproven; of course I have sound recordings and email exchanges to prove that I talked to Ms Richter and communicated by email with Mr Ramadan.

“They would never deny that. If they, as curators, do not belong to the Maldives pavilion, then who does?” he said.

Image courtesty the Maldives Exodus Caravan Show


18 thoughts on “Maldives Pavilion at Venice Biennale split in “mini-coup d’etat””

  1. The correct response to the Maldivians' incessant whining about climate change should be more air conditioning, factories and giant gas guzzling SUVs.

    You retards....all 300 000 of you Neanderthals....belong at the bottom of the ocean!


  2. The whole thing is farcical. The activist brigade has receded so far into their delusionary world... Everybody is out to get them...

    Btw Miss India is a tranny

  3. another attempt from the nasheed led mdp government to favour the families of mdp founders? soren must have planned to represent maldives and cash in from it... like Naseem has been doing for over three decades.. the guys was responsible for foreign investments during gayoom regime and cut many underhand deals... the guy's corruption started from the time when he bagged kurumba during brother - in - law Nasir's brutal regime...

  4. @MissIndia NewDelhi
    same old same old.. hate mongering retard that you are..what else can we expect out of the sorry excuse of a human that you are !

  5. none of these people are maldivians. orientalist idiots squabbling about something that has nothing to do with anything.

  6. i stopped reading after sometime. seriously, such a huge article on THIS issue? two articles actually. last one was better. but this? ... after sometime i felt like i was reading a story. one that evolves too fast.

    you may as well just record his story and publish an mp3 file here. every single little detail!!! im not saying this is a bad story, but too much coverage for a little story. it is amazing in a way. the rare kind of talent one usually finds in mordis politicians. talking for hours without saying anything at all.

    and dont get me wrong, i like minivannews. you guys cover lots of stuff other wont and you cover it well. and ur articles are good too. but this is just BS. i felt like i was sitting with you guys at a coffee table and this artist guy just wont STFU. and then i was lost and wandering in my head. then i went for a swim in the little pond near the green park nature reserve. it was a beautiful day in my head. and then i was floating on the water day dreaming. but i was actually just sitting here reading this really long article.

  7. Mr. Ferry Biedermann is not telling the truth, I challenge him to email me on my address the sound files and the email exchange he claim he had with Miss Richter and Mr. Ramadan.
    The only material you have Mr. Ferry Biedermann
    are the official PR of the pavilion and few dates you asked about.
    This is my email send the prove if you have it on: [email protected]

    I challenge you to email your claims on the Minivan web, why don't you if you are a professional journalist?

    Advisor and Producer
    Abed Anouti

  8. We challenge Minivan to publish the latter Mr. Soren Dahlgaard claim to have appointed from Maryiam Zulfa in 2012.
    The letter to Maryiam Zulfa was written, issued and sends by CPS with CPS letterhead and official signatures.
    Mr. Soren Dahlgaard’s name was in the letter as part of the CPS group only.
    Maryiam Zulfa appointed CPS as an international professional curatorial collective capable of presenting high quality projects unlike Mr. Soren Dahlgaard who has no record whatsoever in in organization building or qualified group projects.

    We have the letter from Maryiam Zulfa, it is par of the evidence we are building to condemn Mr. Dahlgaard in the court of law for his unethical claims and lies.

  9. Thank you Mr. dailyhusband for your comments about the history of this corrupt family:
    “another attempt from the nasheed led mdp government to favour the families of mdp founders? soren must have planned to represent maldives and cash in from it… like Naseem has been doing for over three decades.. the guys was responsible for foreign investments during gayoom regime and cut many underhand deals… the guy’s corruption started from the time when he bagged kurumba during brother – in – law Nasir’s brutal regime…”

    Let me elaborate, Minivan is indeed a bias platform, why don't Minivan publish the information, which we provided related to the 50.000 Euro Mr. Soren Dahlgaard highly likely to have received from Maryiam Zulfa back in 2012?
    In a You Tube video Mr. Soren Dahlgaard underline that Minister Zulfa will punch 100.000 Euro for the pavilion project.

    This is a case for serious Maldivian journalists to interview Maryiam Zulfa and investigate the case especially when the people involved are known to have a corrupt history?
    And thanks to dailyhusband, the outside world didn't now much about the Naseem family and their conducts. But by now the people outside Maldives also got it.

  10. Dear Anouti
    I am not sure who you are but my advice is not to engage in Maldivian petty politics. Minivan News is a just a mouth piece for Maldivian Democratic Party affiliates and associates. Even if the Maldives is falling apart they will only write stories and quotes of what they think will make the current government or anyone other than themselves look incompetent. Soren claims were published here without any investigation of how genuine he is and only purely because he has connections with MDP. I would advise you not engage with Minivan personal rants, particularly by commenting here and condemn Soren in a court of law. MDP and their fans including Minivan only consider themselves as the only guardians of the Maldives and continuously discredit and campaign against anyone other than themselves. You don't need to explain anything here because the views on Minivan do not represent the country and are hardly professional. Thanks.

  11. the moments comments started coming against the editorial point of view, they have removed the article from the homepage.. you slimy JJ Robinson, you want to live life as a holiday and f**k about.. don't you? people don't respect your opinion anymore.. you can give a sh*t

  12. This is the third time we try to post this document and you seam to sensor our posting why Minivan??

    This is the content of the letter from former Minister of Culture of Maldives Zulfa, proving the commissioning of CPS curator group to organize the first Maldives Pavilion at Venice Biennale.
    The letter was send to Miniva in PDF format to publish as Addendumis.
    The letter shows that Minister Zulfa did not appoint Mr. Soren Dahlgaard as he claim in the interview by Miniva. This shows how his credibility and working ethics are thin.

    In the same letter notice how Mr. Soren Dahlgaard falsely changed the official address of CPS office to his own personal home address in Copenhagen, without the knowledge of CPS group.
    Mr. Soren Dahlgaard kept this letter and all information exchange between him and the Minister of Culture Zulfa away from CPS curators until the current Minister of culture of the Maldives removed him from the project for unprofessional conduct.
    CPS received this letter from the Venice Biennale office back in 2012 and NOT from Mr. Soren Dahlgaard.
    This is the content of the letter from Former Minister Zulfa to the Venice Biennale office back in 2012:
    Att: President of the Beinnale di Venezia – Mr. Paolo Baratta
    Dear Mr. Paolo Baratta
    On behalf of the Republic of Maldives it is an honour for me to hereby request for the participation of the first National Pavilion for the Republic of Maldives for the 55th International Art Exhibition Venice Biennale.

    We commission the international curator group CPS – Chamber of Public Secrets (Aida Eltorie, Alfredo Cramerotti, Khaled Ramadan & Soren Dahlgaard) to organize all practical aspects of the Maldives contribution and hereby ask you to please send a copy of your letter to:
    CPS – Chamber of Public Secrets
    c/o Soren Dahlgaard
    Gothersgade 28, 4. Floor, DK-1123 Copenhagen K, Denmark

    Thank you and we look forward to seeing you in Venice for the Opening in 2013.
    Best wishes, Mrs Zulfa, Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture.

    The letter was signed by Zulfa and date to the 17th of July 2012 and carry the document number:
    No: (IUL) 88-FS/2012/2

  13. I don’t think there are many people in Maldives who appreciate a man who told the mullah that he was a muslim to grand him married to a Maldivian women. ‘Soren’ told my sister that he is an atheist and never believed in anything.
    That is true, the ‘Soren’ guy, is the son in low of defrauded MDP former foreign minister Naseem.

  14. Are the people in the going to label the current government of the Maldives as a coup regime?

  15. We discover the article written by Ferry Biedermann in the IPS under the title “Art
    Confronts Maldives’ Climate Change Controversy” has removed all comments by the readers.

    We wander why the IPS ordered the removal of the comments and why Minivan is still keeping some information about Ferry Biedermann's article away from the readers.

    Let me post again what IPS and to Ferry Biederm be professional and don’t order your editor from removing our comments. You could at least send us your proves instead.

    The old posted comments by : Anouti Abed on Wed, 12th Jun 2013 2:43 PM

    Mr. Ferry Biedermann is not telling the truth, I challenge him to email me on my address the sound files and the email exchange he claim he had with Miss Richter and Mr. Ramadan.

    The only material you have Mr. Ferry Biedermann
are the official PR of the pavilion and few dates you asked about.
This is my email send the prove if you have it on: [email protected]

    I challenge you to email me your claims why don’t you if you are a professional journalist?

    Advisor and Producer

    Abed Anouti

  16. To Ferry Biederm I am still waiting for your response to send me the documents you claim to have, the sound interviews, photos and email exchange.
    I am sure you don’t have any of them, because if you did you would have published them.

    As professionals working in the field of media production, we have the rights to expose journalists and agencies who are harming our profession.
    Here is one more chance, please send me the sound files and the email exchange you claim to have on: [email protected] or publish it on Minivan.

    Thank you,
    Advisor and Producer

  17. This is the same Soren who was working with Naseem in an Island in Baa atoll growing vegetables using hydro-phonics drip irrigation in a fully covered green-house. After he complained that no cucumbers are growing, one agriculture guy visited and he later joked about this guy Soren who doesn't know to differentiate male and female flowers and he had no idea that without insects, pollination has to be done manually in a fully enclosed green-house. Soren was supposed to be an artist but my friend never saw any of his works other than the constant disagreement with his wife. The wasted investment was approx. US$250,000 according to a staff who worked with him.


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