My first attempt at promoting Arts in Maldives was in 1999 when I opened SALAAM School, because I believed in the importance and significance of art in education and the potential development of people.
The discovery of talents and skills in Maldivians such as voice, and the ability to play an instrument without learning the theory, took Maldivians by surprise and a wave of pride and surge of energy swept through the 70s and into the 90s – the era of self discovery and connection to innerself.
The truth was that inspired by Hindi movies with beautiful traditions of dance and song, and the Western groups like the Beatles, Rolling Stones and later by Olympians, Amazon Jade and Quicksand, the Maldivian people discovered a new world that brought joy and connection to their very souls through a new form of expression.
Artists then were revered, Olympus hall unfailingly filled up, and people sang along to the radio. Jeymu Dhonkama’s songs struck the heart of the young and old alike. The two discos, house parties, two cinemas, stages for concerts and plays, traditional dance groups performing on the roads during Eid, dressing up for festivities, carnivals with acrobats and beauty competitions, imported circuses and music bands had Male’ swinging into the early 80s.
New Maldivian artists, new forms of art and new opportunities developed to a peak in the early 90s and slowly started receding because as the Maldives entered the era of the nineties, political control on whatever brought people together was held in check.
Then returned the Islamic-educated ‘scholars’, adamant to put a stop to all forms of performing arts and visual images.
Both the intentions, one for political purpose and the other to spread the new messages of Islam, coincided perfectly, brutally fragmenting and replacing the hopes of the Maldivians with confusion, fear and disconnection within themselves, within families and within communities.
A country with a strong artistic profile is an indication of progression, the expression of its people and the freedom to express how they experience life. The following paragraph sums up the importance of Arts in Education and in our lives.
“The Arts are an essential part of public education. From dance and music to theatre and the visual arts, the arts give children a unique means of expression, capturing their passions and emotions, and allowing them to explore new ideas, subject matter, and cultures. They bring us joy in every aspect of our lives.
“Arts education not only enhances students’ understanding of the world around them, but it also broadens their perspective on traditional academics. The arts give us the creativity to express ourselves, while challenging our intellect. The arts integrate life and learning for all students and are integral in the development of the whole person.”
Schools in the Maldives never catered to the needs of the creative aspect in young people because the government institutions concerned with Education and Art, as well as Youth, had Ministers who were ignorant of what Arts mean to children’s and the community’s development.
On the other hand, art and culture is always at the end of the list all over the world, when it comes to education and budgets.
School of Arts, Languages and Music was abbreviated to ‘S’ for School, ‘A’ for Arts, ‘LA’ for Languages ‘AM’ for ‘And MUSIC’, thus giving the name SALAAM (appropriately meaning peace) to SALAAM School.
It had 400 registered students and over 200 youth volunteers when it started. What attracted such a crowd?
The school was nurturing the blessed gift of creativity and supporting young people to bring it out and express it. Youth in 2000 roamed the streets of Male’ as aimlessly as they do today. However, the youth that joined hands with SALAAM School disqualified the negative brand attached to youth (then as even today) through discipline, leadership and commitment that surprised the Home Minister Umar Zahir in 2000 during the first philharmonic and youth orchestra concert at the Social Center.
The Maldives needs a comprehensive and high quality arts education. The passivity we see in children, the nonparticipation in our youth and the lack of ability to bridge difference and solve conflicts in our adults can be caused by the lack of a most significant vehicle in our society: arts to “express the inexpressible and the unbearable”.
Music and dance and visual art forms are a unifying force and the only dialogue without argument. It bridges across races, sex, age, nationality, language, culture and even emotions and conflicts.
Arts hold communities together and through celebrations which are always combined with music, and usually dance, creates the good feelings and binds people despite personal differences. Any form of art enhances our lives.
Why do young children learn better with techniques of art? Why do children remember rhymes and songs? Why do all the countries in the world have National Anthems expressed in melody and lyrics?
The truth is that the impact of music is powerful and transforms emotional experience to learning enhancing the likelihood that something will be remembered. Art always leaves an impression.
“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his/her vision wherever it takes him/her.”
The dream of any person to be an artist or to integrate art into his/her life must be taken seriously. We must have singers, song writers, composers, actors, actresses, dancers, and visual artists in our communities without being labeled but supported through schools, theatres, concert halls, galleries, clubs etc, and last but not least, art-specific educational programs and trained teachers.
We need arts advocacy groups and associations supported by funding, artist support, and materials to continuously enrich the environments of our communities. These activities and people help to shape the culture of our communities.
“The arts reflect profoundly the most democratic credo, the belief in an individual vision or voice”.
Today there are factions of Maldivians who believe that artists should not be encouraged and there are stories of confrontations, threats and attacks. This happened to SALAAM School in 2000.
The school was vandalised in October 2000. Paint was thrown into the corridors, liquid soap onto the walls and the petals of the fans bent so that they touch each other at the tips. The school was under attack and labeled in the media as ‘spreading Christianity’. Miadhu explicitly wrote on April 22, 2010: “Anyone who has studied in the Arabian Peninsula should know that missionaries have been using the word “Salaam” to spread Christianity. After six months when the cat was out of the bag, Maumoon had no choice but to close the school which he opened with his very own hands.”
Was it the word “SALAAM” or the teaching of arts that was the measure to identify Christian missionaries?
The reason behind the vandalism will never be known. Was it political or was it the believers of the new Islamic movement? There was every attempt to stop anything that brought people together, and SALAAM School was attracting many young people to one place.
One comment from a staff of the Ministry of Education (2000) expressed regret at how the Ministry of Education had obstructed SALAAM school’s functioning. He said that if the intention was to obstruct SALAAM School, it should not have been allowed in the first place.
SALAAM School did not close but stayed dormant a few years, digesting a financial loss but growing stronger in conviction. Today, SALAAM School continues developing people of all ages, especially youth, believing in their potential and giving them dignity by guiding them and leaving them a choice to walk their own path.
SALAAM School’s first mission is on hold, the arts school will happen.
Each day is a new scene, a new painting, a new song, a new play, and a new dance, and each day brings new hope to one or more youth who passes through SALAAM School. Maldives is our stage.
Aminath Arif is the founder of SALAAM School.
All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]