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 ;)www.wb-production.com

Posted by WB Production – event.lifestyle.media 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.

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 5.16.32 PM

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.”

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Artists protest exclusion of Nasheed paintings from Minivan50 exhibition

A group of local artists staged a protest at the national art gallery today over the exclusion of paintings depicting former President Mohamed Nasheed from an exhibition organised by the education ministry.

The exhibition, launched yesterday, featured artwork and handicraft by students from 32 schools as part of events planned by the government to mark the upcoming golden jubilee of the country’s independence.

“Nasheed is said to be the Mandela of the Indian Ocean and I personally have a lot of respect for him. That is why I chose to paint him,” 18-year-old Mohamed Raaif told Minivan News today.

The Maldives National University student explained that his painting was initially put up, but he later discovered that it had been removed.

Raif MDP painting
Mohamed Raaif

Raaif said a teacher told him that the organisers claimed his painting  was of “a terrorist” and could not be displayed.

The opposition leader was found guilty of terrorism on Friday night (March 13) and sentenced to 13 years in prison over the military’s detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

Education ministry officials in charge of organising the exhibition could not be reached at the time of publication.

A second painting by a student featuring the former president was also removed.

However, artwork featuring other politicians with blurred faces were displayed at the exhibition.

Raaif said he spent three days working on the painting and had stayed up all night to complete it. He said he was hoping to raise funds for his mother’s backbone surgery as the family was currently facing financial constraints.

He added that he did not have any intention of politicising the painting. However, Raaif said he associated the theme of the exhibition – freedom or independence – with former President Nasheed.

“Not free yet”

Online news outlet CNM reported that the second banned painting of Nasheed was from a grade ten student at the Addu20482_941120079255989_6670794182747816048_n City Feydhoo School.

“That photo is of a terrorist. Photos of terrorists cannot be promoted,” organisers allegedly said, according to an anonymous source.

Meanwhile, a group of about 30 people, including several artists, staged a silent protest inside the art gallery today, mingling with members of the public and holding up prints of the banned Nasheed paintings.

The exhibition was open to the public with free entrance.

The protesters also carried placards calling for freedom of expression and assembly as guaranteed by the constitution and stuck posters on the gallery walls that read, “Not free yet!” and “Minimum 50 years in prison.”

“The function of freedom is to free someone else,” read one of the posters, quoting Chinese dissident and Nobel laureate, Ai Weiwei.

“The work of art was a scream for freedom. Minivan [independent] 50 has not reached us yet!” read one of the placards held up by a protester.

An artist at today’s protest, Kareen Adam, told Minivan News: “The state cannot dictate to us what we can paint, draw, write or think etc. They should have called this exhibition ‘freedom within boundaries’ instead.”

Others artists said the organisers were sending a negative message to youth by banning the paintings of Nasheed, stating that former President Nasheed was an ineradicable part of recent Maldivian history.

Around 4:30pm – half an hour after the exhibition opened for the day – protesters told Minivan News that police asked them to leave as organisers had said the art gallery was closing.

A group led by Youth Ministry Coordinator Ali ‘Steps Ayya’ Shahid meanwhile arrived and began tearing down the material pasted on the walls.

“We will not keep paintings of terrorists,” one of the men allegedly said.

Protesters said the men tore down the paintings and ripped up the posters as police officers watched impassively.

A police officer was also photographed ripping a poster.

Steps Ayya Art Gallery protest
Youth Ministry Coordinator Steps Ayya. Photo by: Munshid Mohamed

 

Police told the protesters that the men had clearance to enter the gallery as they had passes of government coordinators.

One of the protesters took a photograph of the men and was allegedly pushed away.

The men also pushed out the protesters from the gallery. Protesters who spoke to Minivan News asked not to be named as they feared becoming targeted and said they did not have confidence that police would provide protection.

 


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Maldivian art displayed in UK

The first Maldivian art exhibition has been held in the UK.

According to Miadhu, the exhibition titled ‘A piece of darkness’ was held by the high commission of the Maldives in UK in collaboration with the Royal Commonwealth Society.

The exhibition which has been running since 15 December, was formally innaugrated by Lord Bilimoria, reports Miadhu.

The exhibition is set to run till the end of January, and is being held at the Royal Commonwealth Society.

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