A collection of children’s drawings and photographs depicting Maldivian perceptions of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami have been unveiled as part of the first exhibition to be hosted at Male’s new National Gallery building, six years to the day that large swathes of South Asia were hit by the devastating waves.
The exhibition is called Drawing the Wave, which combines photographic images with drawings provided by school children from a number of islands on how they remembered the tsunami.
Amidst canvases of bright crayon illustrations depicting cartoon-like trees and vivid wavy blue lines devouring football pitches, houses and even stick-like drawings of people, questions and phrases are written that are said to have expressed the fears of young people across Meedhoo, Madifushi and Buruni; three islands badly hit by the tsunami.
“Are we a sinking nation?”, “We lost our school. We lost our future. Someone lost their parent” and “Don’t we deserve something better?” are just some of the phrases written upon the images drawn up by students in the eighth and ninth grades back in 2005, based on their experiences of surviving the tsunami.
These writings, according to exhibition curator Ragni Afeef, powerfully reflected concerns about the Tsunami from the experiences of children that have lived through the waves.
“There are three or four drawings created by students in grade eight or nine that contained writing that is very moving,” she said, talking of how the words belied the child-like images on display. “They were teenagers at the time, teenagers who had seen computers at their school destroyed and were unable to sit exams. They were frustrated on another level entirely.”
The exhibition, which was opened yesterday evening in the presence of President Mohamed Nasheed and a number of other guests such as the Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Dr Mariyam Zulfa, is expected to remain at the National Gallery for two weeks. It has previously been shown at venues across Norway, from where Afeef is originally from.
“These drawings have travelled a long way,” said the curator during the exhibition’s opening.
Afeef told Minivan News, that she had also contributed a number of photographs to the exhibition of sandals and footwear found discarded and partly destroyed in February 2005, two months after the Tsunami had struck.
During this period, Afeef visited a number of beaches that had been struck by the Tsunami, many of which she had said had been “littered with the footwear” during the devastation.
“I wondered to who did they belong? What is their story,” she said.
Speaking during the exhibition opening, Afeef said that despite the childlike contents of the images, when it came to the seriousness of the content, she believed in the old adage that “a picture can paint a thousand words”.
“This is the first exhibition in the new National Gallery,” she said. “A museum can help explain to a world what it means to be human.”
With the artwork now back in the Maldives, Afeef claimed that she had come “full circle” with the exhibition and was at “the end of this particular journey”, despite her hopes that the government may take the exhibition to the three islands where the art originated from.
However, Afeef claimed that she hoped to fulfill a longstanding plan to return to the islands and try and see how life had changed at the rebuilt schools, “perhaps in a year or so”.
While remaining in touch with a teacher from Meedhoo who helped compile the work shown in the exhibition, Afeef said she had not been able to remain in contact with the children whose work now provided an account of a major moment in Maldivian history for a global audience.
However, as part of what the curator saw as a positive legacy of the exhibition, she claimed that the exhibition had led to collections in Norway that had raised money to provide computers for a future generation of school children in the Maldives.
The Drawing the Wave exhibition is expected to remain on display at Male’ National Art Gallery for the next two weeks. More information is available through the National Gallery on 3310729.