The Tourism Ministry outsourced the Maldives’ first national pavilion at the Venice Biennale art show to an Arab-European collective of curators, some of whom have alleged the Maldives government does not care about climate change or the arts.
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 pavilion is meant to raise awareness and be a call to action against climate change as well as explore questions of environmental impact, climate change and migration in the Maldives, as part of the art show taking place in Venice, Italy.
The art exhibitions also highlights Maldivians’ current efforts to archive and collect as much of their cultural heritage as possible, prior to the entire nation’s disappearance, due to rising sea levels, and the subsequent forced displacement of 350,000 people.
The Maldives pavilion was “almost abandoned” following the controversial transfer of power February 7, 2012, given that it was originally an initiative of former President Mohamed Nasheed and envisioned as a way to draw attention to climate change and the plight faced by the Maldives, according to an article published by the Inter Press Service (IPS).
Although Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adeeb commissioned the pavilion, President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik’s government “lost interest” in the initiative and allowed a joint Arab-European collective of artists, called the Chamber of Public Secrets (CPS), to curate the exhibitions, alleges the IPS.
Some of the Maldives pavilion curators have accused Waheed’s government of having no interest in the arts, the pavilion exhibitions, or climate change.
“They did not care. They did not mind. They don’t believe in the power of art to affect anything anyway,” associate curator Maren Richter told the IPS.
“The new government even denies the [climate change] problem and says that Nasheed was a liar. They say, ‘He built an airport and resorts, why would he do that if sea levels are rising?’,” added Richter.
CPS curator and Lebanese artist Khaled Ramadan echoed these sentiments in his documentary “Maldives To Be or Not”, which “explores Western preconceived notions about the Maldives and its ecology.”
The film focuses on the current socio-political challenges faced by Maldivians, which include climate change as well as “the corrupt tourism industry” and the struggle “to balance their life between modernity and traditions,” he explained to the publication BLOUIN ARTINFO.
Ramadan visited the Maldives in March 2013 as a “citizen of the Arab world who wanted to learn about what’s left of the shared history and how this amphibious nation is treating its contemporary culture in relation to its ecological strengths and weaknesses.”
“The environmental hazard about the Maldivian nature is an over politicised notion, and the nature has proven to be much more sustainable than the Maldivian culture,” wrote the Maldives Pavilion blog.
“Would our request to represent Maldives as outsiders have been accepted by Venice Biennale officials without official letter from the current Maldives government?” asked Ehsan Fardjadniya, an artist and activist based in Amsterdam participating in Maldives Pavilion.
The initial ideas for the Maldives pavilion were to unite a network of activists to discuss and act on climate change issues and the ongoing political turmoil in the country via a mobile pavilion representing the forced migration of these future climate refugees, Fardjadniya explained in an interview for the Maldives Pavilion blog.
“Right now, the project has found a venue and doesn’t seem to relate itself much or at all with the pressing issues in the Maldives,” said Fardjadniya. “On the contrary, we seem to be commissioned by the current government to represent the Maldives at 55th Venice Biennale.”
“I would rather be an outsider to this present situation and act against this cultural coup,” Fardjadniya declared.
The Maldives pavilion includes a variety of exhibitions created by international multi-media artists, individual contributors and group collaborations.
While the exhibitions were primarily created by artists of various nationalities, two Maldivians, Moomin Fouad and Mohamed Ali, contributed their film “Happy Birthday”. The film, about a kidnapping and disappearance, previously won 12 MFA Awards at the 2011 Maldives Film Festival.
The 55th Venice Biennale was launched on 29 May and will be open to visitors until 24 November.
The Biennale claims to be “one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world…promoting new artistic trends and organising international events in contemporary arts” since its formation in 1895.
Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adeeb was not responding to calls at time of press.
Addendum: Following publication of this article Minivan News received the following statement from Abed Anouti, Producer at the Chamber of Public Secrets, in response to an enquiry made by Minivan News the previous day.
In compliance with CPS’s copyright request Minivan News has also taken down an image of the pavilion’s promotional poster, distributed by CPS and used to illustrate the story.
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.
As we do with all journalists, we only presented to Mr. Ferry our PR which is published on our website. CPS always asks journalists to look at our PR statement at our website to learn more about the project. He didn’t use time to study the artworks at the pavilion, he is not an art writer or even cultural writer, he is another journalist who is looking for sensations.
Mr. Ferry Biedermann is not the only journalist who took advantage of our positive pavilion to score political or journalistic points to himself or his agency.
Minivan is another agency that is spreading rumors and misquotations. Neither the curators of the Maldives Pavilion nor the participating artists have given any interviews to Ferry Biedermann or Minivan.
CPS team and the invited artists worked hard for over a year on the issue of climate change to present a research based art exhibition in Venice, our focus is not only Maldives but environment in a global context.
So far professional art writers have been given the Maldives Pavilion the best reviews and we are among the most popular destinations of the Venice Biennale. Furthermore, the Maldives Pavilion was the only one to be interviewed by the Italian national TV on the day of the opening.
As a professional artists group, we approach the Maldives with positive thinking, we are not journalists who seek negative stories. We don’t wish to politicize art and refuse to be part of any political sensational publishing agencies like Minivan.
Just for the record all conversations and emails with non-professional art writers or art critics are published on our web to avoid misuse or misquotation of any of us like in the case with Mr. Ferry.
Finally, Minivan unethically used our graphic poster without our knowledge or permission. Therefore we urge you to remove it from your website due to copyright.
CPS – Producer