Topless women, dead octopus and body paint: an art exhibition sparks controversy

A video of an art exhibition on violence against women, which depicted scantily clothed women with body paint and some posing with a dead octopus, has sparked controversy.

The project was commissioned in March by the vice-president of the Maldivian National Chamber of Commerce and Industries (MNCCI) Ismail Asif as part of his fourth annual exhibition on women and children’s rights.

The first half of the video shows female models, who work for the Austrian company WB Productions, at the National Art Gallery with traditional Maldivian dress painted on to their bodies.

The second half shows some models posing with a dead octopus on the beach while others posed topless with body paint and coir rope.

Maldives Art Gallery & Experimental Bodypainting Trip

Projects in the field of bodypainting is what we do. About 2 months ago we were invited to fill the Maldivian National Art Gallery with painted bodies. ///////////////////////More about the exhibition: In the week from 7th of march 2015 "WB Production" is invited with a team to the Maldives to be part of the Installation Art Project by Ismail Asif in the Maldives National Art Gallery. It's his 4th annual exhibition about "Abuse of woman and children" in his country.It's also the first time he incorporated Bodypainting into his art. The design of the Bodypainting was taken from the Dhivehi Libaas, the traditional Maldivian dress, elaborately adorned with a gold and silver neckline called Kasabu Bovalhu.Every day protests out on the streets against the government were almost knocking the plan of an indeed nervous looking Mr. Asif off.The team of WB Production with Alex and Anna Barendregt, Aga Glińska, Anna Tuzańska and Vitaliya Abramova is very thankful to be part of this great experimental trip and very glad that the exhibition in the end did happen. WHAT A trip ;)

Posted by WB Production – on Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The video was uploaded on May 20 on Facebook and has been viewed more than 53,000 times.

CEO of WB production Alex Barendregt said: “Our team was able to be part of a very intense art exhibition in the Maldivian art gallery. Why intense? Because for the first time we did incorporate body painting in a very strict conservative Muslim country.”

Many praised Asif for the controversial exhibition, but others said the video contained “pornographic material.” Some censured Asif for what they called double standards, claiming he had criticized former president Mohamed Nasheed’s government for allegedly secular policies.

Asif was unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.

“Great work. Nice to see the artist who was happily branding the jailed president Mohamed Nasheed’s government as un-Islamic taking the daring step to hold a body painting exhibition in Malé’s Art Gallery. Sadly even for watching this video us mere locals would be arrested and charged with having pornographic material,” Munshid Mohamed said on Facebook.

Nasheed is currently serving a 13-year jail term on terrorism charges. His trial was widely criticized for lack of due process and triggered daily anti-government protests for three months.

Another expressed concern over the national gallery allowing Asif to hold an exhibition that “pushed public norms of decency,” despite having rejected art work by Maldivian students depicting Nasheed as a hero for an exhibition on the country’s golden jubilee of independence.

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One asked: “What would have happened if this had happened during president Nasheed’s time?” Many of Nasheed’s supporters feel his opponents unfairly targeted them by branding them as un-Islamic.

Others expressed concern over artists using an octopus in the photos, to which WB productions replied: “Don’t worry, it was a dead octopus from the market, and later one of our friends took him home to cook as millions other people do.”

A supporter of the exhibition, Faiyal Ahmed said: “Nice stuff, if this is what locals are calling shooting a porn video I think we should educate them more.”


8 thoughts on “Topless women, dead octopus and body paint: an art exhibition sparks controversy”

  1. The difference is that during the tenure of MN, the President himself does or tells the unacceptable in the public!

  2. The exhibition is not controversial. The controversy is over the the hypocrisy of the "takaa" bigots who were foaming at the mouth over some un-Islamic "monuments", but silent now.

  3. Why would you use infidel models with little to no clothing and body paint to help educate Muslims about violence against women and children? I'm not offended by the video, I'm just offended by the lack of cultural sensitivity and pure arrogance. (and I'm an infidel atheist) I'm positive this video will not affect Islamic teachings/beliefs that women are inferior to men and generally deserve to be treated with disrespect and violence.

  4. Yes. REaess Nasheed WAS NOT A STRONG LEADER, No courage to Challenge Gundas in Maldives.

  5. This contravenes basic tenets of Islam. If legal action is not taken against the people who did this, we will bring some cute girls from Bankok and do some serious nude art on Majeedee Magu.

  6. The Maldivian police are "investigating" this video. Given the "expertise" of the Maldivian police in such matters, we await their findings.

    You may recall that in a previous incident, an infamous judge who sits on the Supreme Court bench featured in several videos depicting adultery with prostitutes, presumably in Sri Lankan hotels. The Maldivian police found "no evidence" of a breach of a tenet of Islam by the esteemed judge on that occasion.

    Let's see what happens this time around.

  7. Whatever the goal may be, whether I like what's created or not, I'll still applaud people who peacefully express themselves, who create some controversy, hopefully to open a few more eyes and minds. Tolerance and acceptance is what our society needs. To acknowledge these creations as harmless and to accept the creators as fine people who expand the boundaries of our culture.

  8. "It's his 4th annual exhibition about Abuse of woman and children in his country. This time his focus is on the media and NGO's that he criticizes. Many NGO's and woman activist groups in the end use the story of abused women in order to get funding for their administration. Help is very often not delivered to the victims. Even though some organizations work well, the majority especially in developing countries such as the Maldives do only work for themselves in order to pay their salaries." via

    So much debate to be had over this exhibition, how it came to be, and what it produced in the end - and yes, the debate should not just be about nudity. Here is a Maldivian artist pushing boundaries in a way no other Maldivian would have dared to. I have so many questions for Asif; What's the point of making art commenting on social issues if the collaborators are removed from the culture it comments on (refer to the the quote above)? What's the point of artwork criticising social and public organisations when the exhibition is viewable to 'invitees only'? Why was the exhibition/performance 'invitees only'? Who funded the project? Would this have been allowed if the project was proposed by an unknown artist who does not sit in a highly paid, highly influential position in society? And as someone else has already posed the question, how and why is/was this artwork perceived differently from the portrait of Prez Nasheed?
    The National Centre for Arts responsible for the National Gallery needs to respond to this rather than throwing their hands up again and saying, 'we just rent out the gallery'. This here once again is a perfect opportunity for NCA to engage the public in good dialogue and debate about the place of art in society.

    Wonder what's gonna happen next?


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