Sarudhaaru Dhon Maniku: the pioneer of ‘souvenir’ art in the Maldives

Sarudhaaru Dhon Maniku, who often signs his paintings SDM, is considered the pioneer of ‘souvenir art’, or art and craft produced with the primary purpose of selling or gifting it to a tourist.

Also one of the first Maldivians to scuba dive, SDM’s imagination is infused with the colors and rich and varied life forms of the underwater world. The son of a craftsman, SDM was initiated into the trade of craft making and art at an early age. Commissioned by various friends and others, SDM initially produced various gift and craft items. Later on, he was commissioned to produce portraits or copy printed images by the Indian (Bhora) traders who were stationed in Male from the late 1800s until mid 20th century.

SDM was first noticed for his talent and skills during the 10 year period beginning from the end of the reign of Sultan Hassan Noordeen, and the formation of the first republic in 1953 with Mohamed Amin Didi as the first president.

SDM was then a teenager. He recalls President Amin Didi as a great patron of the arts and crafts, and indeed it was he who organised a nationwide arts and crafts fair in the capital for the first time in the history of the country. More generally, the short tenure of Amin Didi’s presidency is also regarded as a period of literary and cultural renaissance.

Even though SDM was noticed for his talents at an early age and in the 1940s and ‘50s, he says it was the advent of tourism in the early1970s that really helped him to carve out a profession in which he could dedicate his skills as an artist and craftsman fully to his profession. The ‘tourist market’, as it became later known, proved to be a lucrative avenue for all aspiring craftsmen, artisans and hopeful artists in the country, and given the rich traditions of craft in the Maldives, this was a welcome development for the country at large.

In the 1980’s more than 20 highly developed craft forms were documented. These ranged from coir rope-making from coconut husk, to weaving mats from a variety of dried grass and then coloring it with natural dies, to intricate and exquisite looking lacquer ware and expensive jewellery made from gold and silver.

By coincidence, the year SDM was born was also the year the French Impressionist painter Monet died. And during the course of SDM’s life, Europe experienced the trends of Modernism, DADA, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop and Post-Modernist art.

While it may be futile to interpret SDM’s works through the prisms of these aesthetic and stylistic trends, it’s interesting to note that SDM’s works exhibit many qualities of these very trends of which he may never have known about first hand.

SDM as a young man

Perhaps more importantly, SDM admits he always strived to make something that maybe of use; admiration of aesthetical beauty being one of these uses. Additionally, he also meticulously documented the shells and fishes commonly found in the Maldivian reefs and lagoons. One of the first series of posters depicting shells and fishes of the Maldives was illustrated by SDM, which is still in print and published by Novelty Printers and Publishers Maldives.

Apart from the sheer output of his work over a period of several decades (SDM is now in his late eighties), what is most apparent in SDM’s long career are the different media he has mastered over time. This includes the pencil, water, acrylic and oil colors as well as sculpting and carving. In addition to this, he has also consistently demonstrated a knack for invention, often experimenting with different materials and techniques, and continuing even today. Senior Maldives artist Ahmed Abbas has commented on SDM; “Dhonbe is a great artist, especially his underwater scenes have something special and great about them. He has applied color to great effect. Even when we were kids, Dhonbe was a renowned artist .”

In recognition of SDM’s contribution to Maldivian culture and to celebrate his achievements in the arts, the National Art Gallery of the Maldives commissioned him in 2005 to produce a series of works for the permanent collection of the gallery. Some of these works are also now exhibited in the Maldivian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Maldivian embassies abroad, and others are displayed at the gallery in temporary exhibitions.

The Gallery also commissioned a book documenting the life of SDM which was published in 2009 in Dhivehi, and an English translation is due to be published in 2012.

SDM lives at his home in Male and continues to produce paintings, handcrafted objects and other items such as hand painted greeting cards and says he is very content with the life he has lived. He continues to be an inspiration to younger generations of artists and is one of the most prized individuals in the country.

Mamduh Waheed is Deputy Minister for Tourism Arts and Culture. He is also a writer on Maldivian art and has written several reviews and essays for catalogs, and was curator of the National Art Gallery from 2004 to 2009.


Addu Hubasaana 2011 Arts, Crafts and Food festival boosts local entrepreneurs

Minister for Economic Development Mahmood Razee inaugurated the Hubasaana 2011 Arts, Crafts and Food festival in Maradhoo Feydhoo of Addu City on Thursday, October 20. The festival, which was organized by Ministry for Economic Development (MED), will be a platform for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME).

The fair, which runs through October 22, is the culmination of a yearlong pilot project for developing local products that was conducted in the South and North of Maldives.

“The festival will showcase authentic high quality Maldivian products,” said Hamza Imad, MED’s international consultant for the project. In addition to the display of local products ranging from handicraft and woodwork to food produce, there will also be demonstrations of the making of regional delicacies like bondi (a sweet made of coconut) and kudhi gulha (fried short eat).

“The project will be expanded to other areas of Maldives next year,” said Imad.

Over 50 SMEs of nearby atolls GA, Gdh, and Fuvamulah are participating in the three-day festival, along with Addu City. Hubasaana 2011 will also be held in Hanimadhoo of Hdh atoll in early December. The event will enable SMEs from the northern atolls of HA, Hdh, Shaviyani to participate and promote their products.

Aishath Raniya Sobir, Monitoring and Evaluation Consultant for MED’s Private Sector Development Project said two Business Development Service Centers (BDSC) were set up last year in Hithadhoo of Addu City and Kulhudufushi of Hdh, to facilitate the project’s operations.

The centers provided business trainings in planning, marketing, start-up plans and technical expertise to over 5000 people from the project’s target atolls. Raniya said participants share the cost of training with MED “so that they can take ownership of this.”

Hobbies to businesses

The trainings were an important outlet for a thriving talent pool. “The islanders are very enthusiastic and talented, and a lot of time the people who came for the trainings had already been doing some handiwork as a hobby,” said Raniya.

One such person is Addu City housewife, Mariyam Naazly.

Naazly had attended various handiwork courses over the years. During a fabric painting course, Addu’s BDSC consultant gave a talk on start-up business cooperatives. Naazly said the talk motivated her to become an entrepreneur.

Joined by 10 other attendees of the course, Naazly formed the Addu Arts and Crafts Cooperative Society (AACCS), of which she is the president. The cooperative creates handicraft, like baskets of eekle broom, coconut art, bracelets from nuts found in trees and decorative items from empty rice sacks among others.

Today, Naazly’s hands are full. “We have been producing products for this fair over the past days, and we also have an order to produce 300 brooches for the Feydhoo Maradhoo schools prize giving day.”

Naazly is excited at the prospect of selling AACCS products to the resort representatives and shop owners that will come to the fair. But showing her products to fellow islanders is just as thrilling. “This is all so new here, people don’t even know what a cooperative is, I hope this fair will give us exposure and let people see the things we create.”

Discussion among islanders has innovated the crafts market.

“A participant brought a lions head done in from a pillow case, and we oriented them towards making things that exist in Maldives,” said Imad. The result was a totally new product on the market: a stuffed replica of Maldivian marine life including eels and sharks, that can be taken home as a souvenir.

The cooperative’s first workshop was held in a friend’s sitting room. Now, they share a workspace along with another cooperative provided by the BDSC. “I am also attending marketing classes at the center, for the first time I can actually make a living out of all the things I have learned,” said Naazly.

The BDSC is providing a unique professional opportunity for women, the majority of whom don’t work in the Maldives’ lucrative tourism sector due to social and religious expectations. Of the BSDC trainees, 40% have been women.

Hurdles and Opportunities

In a country that creates very little, starting a project like this had not been easy, stakeholders said. Imad and Raniya said bureaucracy and administrative work had proved to be very difficult in the initial phases. “We had to go for a change of mindset on the way people do business,” says Raniya.

But change can be a difficult lesson. “Market needs, tourist needs, we had to teach people to take this into account,” explained Raniya. Speaking of a popular Maldivian snack common in most cafes, Imad identified customer control of food as a new concept. “We can do frozen short eats, so that a person can grill it or fry it when they want to eat it,” said Imad.

A total of 60 new businesses have been started via this project, including set up of businesses and cooperatives for agriculture, arts, crafts, hydroponics, aqua culture, food processing and packaging, wood carving and goat rearing.

PADI open water certificates have enjoyed new popularity–80 locals signed up for the course. “The demand was overwhelming and we couldn’t accommodate everyone,” said IMAD. “We asked the participants to bear 20% of the costs while the government bore 80%.” Maldivians with PADI training is expected to be a huge asset to the mid-market tourism envisaged by the government.

Meanwhile, barriers between locals and resorts persist. “locals would complain that resorts had no interest in buying their product, while resorts would complain about the quality and consistency,” Raniya said.

To bridge that gap and achieve success, MED joined efforts with the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Tourism, UNDP and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

“We also had a lot of help from Women’s Entrepreneurs Association, especially its former president late Aiminath Arif,” said Rainya.

MED will provide ongoing support to the small businesses via the BDSC in each region according to Raniya. “We will help draw up contracts and facilitate talks between the businesses and buyers. We also have introduced a loan scheme of 3 million dollars, for which we have already identified 40 beneficiaries.”

A bill that has been submitted to parliament could end up giving a huge boost to the newborn SMEs and change the face of the souvenir market in Maldives, which is at the moment flooded with foreign products. “If the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Act is passed, within 3 years 50% of products in all souvenir shops should be local,” said Raniya.

‘Made in Maldives’ could become a common thing, enabling Naazly and dozens of others like her to make a profitable business. Imad said, “We want to see a day where Maldivian local delicacies, could be marketed like Swiss chocolate.”

Hubasaana 2011 festival will be held Maradhoo Feydhoo Social Centre in Addu city on 20-22 Oct 2011, at the SAARC Summit in Addu City from 8-10 November, and in Hanimadhoo of Hdh Atoll from 1-3 December.


Chinese artist Yuan Xikun exhibits in the Maldives

Prominent Chinese artist Yuan Xikun says that during the tumultuous times of the Cultural Revolution, “to escape the meaningless fight between people” he went off and lived in the wilderness like Robinson Crusoe.

Even though he had been selected to stay in the city to paint the portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong, Xikun requested to be sent off to rural Xishungbanna. Life in the wilderness provided fodder for his paintings. In particular an encounter with a tiger at close range had a major impact on him, influencing his art.

His paintings of tigers are many; specially striking is one titled ‘Mountain Gentleman’ of a tiger’s unflinching stare in an Oriental Canvas.

“When I came across it in the forest it became a staring match and then luckily it walked away,” says Xikun, speaking through a translator at a talk he gave Monday night at the National Art Gallery. The new Chinese Ambassador to Maldives Yu Hongyao and Deputy Minister of Tourism, Arts & Culture Mamduh Waheed attended the talk along with Maldivian artists.

The tiger connection

Eleven paintings by Xikun, of tigers in various poses, were on display at the art gallery. One of a small Chinese boy next to a docile tiger lying on its paws is aptly titled ‘Tiger tamed by boy with magic powers.’ The magnificent creature evokes sympathy in the viewer in the painting titled ‘Waiting for home’ a forlorn tiger seen through the bars of its cage.

The tiger is also what has lead Xikun to come to Maldives. Xikun, who is also a world-renowned sculptor, is the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)’s Patron for the Environment and Arts. UNEP uses Xikun’s sculptures for its environmental Champions of the Earth trophies – one of which was received by President Mohamed Nasheed.

A keen environmentalist, Xikun says it was inspiring to see the President doing something about carbon emissions.

A tall striking figure, Xikun took the attendees through his work via a power point presentation while talking animatedly in Chinese.

“You might ask why bring paintings of tigers to an Oceanic country. The thing is sharks share a similar destiny to tigers in the environment.” Xikun regularly uses his art to highlight threats to the environment and remind the viewers that the Earth’s resources are finite.

A miniature of his famous sculpture, ‘Urgency of the polar region’ was also on display. The sculpture of a mother polar bear balancing a top an iceberg with its two young cubs clinging to its side highlights the dangers of the melting icebergs.

“Religion and art are all connected to nature, this earth and its biodiversity is not an inheritance of our forefathers but is borrowed from our offspring,” said Xikun, and reiterated his call “for all human beings to achieve supreme kindness and to live in harmony with nature.”

A project

Xikun says it is in recent years environmental awareness has become such a large part of his philosophy infusing his work. Though his interest in painting ink wash portrait of foreign dignitaries and leaders had also earned him the title of ‘portrait diplomat’. So far he has painted over 152 portraits including that of Nelson Mandela.

His sculptures have often been presented as national gifts by the Chinese government to other countries. Notable among them is a gift to America, the sculpture of former president Abraham Lincoln, titled ‘Before the Decisive Battle-Lincoln.’

He has also produced sculptures of Einstein and Gandhi, along with 158 world leaders in politics and arts. Xikun is also the founder and curator of the first private museum in China, the Jin Tai Art Museum in Beijing.

A firm believer of cultural exchange, Xikun says “we are all live under one common sky and we will all face the environmental crisis, so I hope one day there is a mass movement for environmental protection.”

Xikun is gifting the three miniature sculptures he brought to Maldives. Among them is one titled ‘Sky patch.’ After the talk he explained that the sculpture of a woman carrying a rectangle block in her outstretched arms had originated from a Chinese myth about a goddess that blocks a hole in the earth.

“This is relevant to today’s times because we have a desire to do something about the environmental problems we face.” The other sculpture is that of Napoleon holding on to St Helena.

Plans are on to collect sand from five continents and water from the two Arctic Poles to do a giant sculpture of ‘Sky patch.’

Xikun will meet the President on on Wednesday, to discuss the project and gift the sculptures. Xikun extended an invitation to everyone to “come for the sand collection, to be part of the sculpture project.”


Maldivian artists exhibit in African ‘OneArtOneEarth’ exhibition

Paintings by three Maldivians are among the diverse artworks displayed in the international art exhibition ‘OneArtOneEarth’ in East Africa.

The ongoing exhibition takes place at Diamonds La Gemma dell’Est, a five star resort on the western coast of Zanzibar, and showcases paintings of Maldivian artists Hassan Ziyad, Huda Aishath and Afzal Shaafiu Hassan (Afu).

Contemporary paintings by artists from Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Sri Lanka and Zanzibar are among the other works displayed in the exhibition.

“It was a very good opportunity for us as normally we get to interact only with artists from the SAARC region, this has enabled us to see the works of some superb African artists, and exchange notes with them,” says Afu.

Huda and Afu were flown to Zanzibar along with other artists for the opening night of the exhibition in late July. Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mariyam Zulfa along with her Zanzibar counterpart Minister Jihad Abdillah Hassan were chief guests at the event.

Going international

Most painters had integrated their cultures on the canvas of their paintings. Saada Juma Mussa, one of the leading henna painters in Zanzibar, showcased the art form on canvas. A former banker Adrian Nduma from Kenya plays with colour and abstract forms on his canvases, giving way to a magnificent painting of a lion.

Likewise the Maldivian artists incorporated aspects of the Maldives in their paintings. On the opening night itself one of Huda’s paintings were snapped up by a patron.

A former art teacher at Iskandar school, Huda says her artistic mother influenced her to start painting at a young age. “After experimenting with different techniques, I have found that bold strokes of oil and acrylic on canvas is something I never get bored of,” says Huda.

Those bold strokes created an alluring painting of a woman in a red Dhivehi libaas (traditional Maldivian dress) walking towards the sea, one of the first paintings to be sold.

Huda, Afu and Ziyad’s work, were chosen from among a dozen Maldivian artists, by Carlo Cipolini, the organizer of the event. Cipolini, a successful hotelier and owner of PlanHotels, is also an art aficionado and had held this exhibition to inaugurate his ambitious art project ‘The Indian Ocean Art Project’, which will bring together artists from in and around the Indian Ocean region.

“The aim of the project is to promote the teaching of art and to support artists from Indian Ocean Countries,” says Cipolini.

Afu says he feels the project will be very successful. “ The project will create a much needed platform for Maldivian artists to exhibit abroad.”

Akin to art movements in the past, the project aims to create an art movement in the Indian Ocean.

An Art Project

Spherique will promote different forms of art, including painting, design and sculpture. An annual international art exhibition will be held to showcase local artists and give them maximum exposure. Artists will be encouraged to share their experiences and travel to other countries to connect with different traditions.

“Artists of countries located in and around Indian Ocean will be able to compare notes with each other and give free reign to their talent,” says Cipolini.

Despite the influx of thousands of tourists annually to the Indian Ocean countries, the local art scene has not been able to fully utilise this platform to promote their art.

The Spherique project aims to change all that. “We would like to do an intelligent form of tourism that is culturally active and wide ranging. Countries that until now are known for their stunning beauty will unveil their artistic nature.”

International airlines, TV networks and companies alongside governmental authorities of the participating countries will partner in this project which will see the emergence of art galleries and businesses based around art in the participating countries.

Spherique will bring together countries as diverse as Seychelles, Myanmar, Comoros Islands, Mauritius, and Yemen with a variety of existing art forms.

Among them are South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya gifted with ancient legacies; Australia which is home to one of the world’s oldest continuing art tradition, aboriginal art; and India and Maldives with their burgeoning youth populations that produce experimental work, showcasing their cultures on canvas in distinctive ways.

“This will be the strength of the project, that the love of art will bring together people from different backgrounds, to form a melting pot of ideas, styles, concepts and culture” says Cipolini.

‘Spherique’ launched with much fanfare, heralds in a new era in art for the countries involved. This pan Indian Ocean project has all the potential to create an Indian Ocean art renaissance and give talented, hitherto unknown, artists a chance to become an Indian Ocean Matisse of tomorrow.


Alliance Française opens “Women’s World” photography exhibition

The Alliance Française is launching a “Planète Femmes” (“Women’s World”) photography exhibition on Thursday evening at 8:00pm at the National Art Gallery.

The photos are the product of a free-to-enter amateur photography contest organised by Alliance Française with the participation of the magazine Courrier International.

Participants were asked to show a representation of women in their corresponding cultures.

This exhibition is scheduled to remain open everyday (except Friday and Saturday) from 10:00pm to 4:00pm until September 22.


Tourism industry has an obligation to develop local artists, says painter at launch of Coco Collection

There are certain paintings that have the power to uplift your spirits. Well-known local artist Afzal (Afu) Shaafiu Hassan’s Coco collection exhibition showcases 24 paintings belonging to that category.

Commissioned by Cocopalm Boduhithi, the acrylic paintings are destined to be hung in the water bungalows of the high-end resort.

The paintings’ blend of contemporary and heritage gives a modern twist to usual depictions of palm trees, corals, shells and islands. At the same time Afu’s paint brush has also dipped into the 2000 year old Maldivian culture, giving the paintings depth, familiarity and a unique ‘Maldivianness’.

The 48×44 inch paintings are hung in a row, inches apart occupying one side of the spacious art gallery. Interestingly enough a 60 year old Maldivian story ‘Raiveribeyaa Rukaa’ (toddy tapper and palm tree) written by Annabeel Malin Mohamed Didi runs through all the paintings in the form of a monologue written in ancient Dhivehi script.

“It was a coincidence; I was reading that story when Cocopalm commissioned my work,” says Afu.

The connection of the name Cocopalm and the story which revolves around a toddy tapper and a palm tree was not lost on Afu. “It’s a fascinating story, in one part the palm tree berates the toddy tapper asking him why he doesn’t behave like a man, and go fishing like others, instead of spending his time on top of the tree.”

The story goes on to highlight the importance of the palm tree to every aspect of Maldivian life and talks about how it is better to protect the palm trees than damage them.

Depicting classics in a new way

The quintessential palm tree and sunset has a new role to play in Afu’s paintings. In one painting two palm trees stand straight on the right side as all around them, blues, oranges, purples intercept and whirl around. While on the left side one can almost make out the faint whisperings of a form that looks like a butterfly or a flower, the ends of it curling and beckoning the palm trees.

“It’s the flower motif you find on lacquerware,” says Afu, and suddenly you realize why the form looks so familiar. Throughout all the paintings ancient motifs plays peek-a-boo with the viewer, teasing in its familiarity.

Afu’s depiction of murex shell is almost fiery, the edges spiked with blues, oranges, and yellows, reds, pinks – it is simply a riot of colours. The shell’s middle is mysterious and dark reminding you that you never really know what lurks inside a shell when you pick it up first. In contrast to the fieriness of the shell is the barely visible flower motif at the bottom. In other paintings you can make out a hexagonal seal, akin to the ones used in the past by Maldivian Kings.

Afu's works feature trails of ancient Dhivehi script

“The motifs and seals are not depicted exactly as they are,” he says.

In Afu’s world flower motifs are stretched, a king’s seal gives way to your own and motifs from the ancient Friday mosque can be turned upside down, or lengthened and modified in innovative way to break up two juxtaposed island views.

Calligraphy recounting ancient stories run horizontally, vertically, in one lines, or in couples to visually entice the audience.

For Afu this is his way of paying homage to the Dhivehi script, Thaana. “We take our script for granted now, but it’s only civilizations that have its own proper script. I am very proud to show it off in my paintings.”

A helping hand

One reason Afu is exhibiting the Coco Collection is to make the tourism industry sit up and take notice to Maldivian art: “It’s a pity that it is mostly foreigners’ work that is displayed in resorts.”

Afu laments the fact that despite the Maldivian tourism industry being well established and flourishing, with over 600,000 visitors a year, the local art scene was lagging far behind. However he acknowledged that “there has been the problem of lack of reliability of Maldivian artists in the past.”

“The regional art scenes are more developed and the art industry and tourism industry of those countries complement each other.”

But he says times have changed: “There are very good Maldivian artists who can deliver now, they should be given a chance.”

A view echoed by Hussain Hilmy, director of Sunland Travels that owns Cocopalm Boduhithi.

“We decided to source local painters because there are many talented artists in the Maldives. It was tough choosing an artist, after seeing the works of so many,” he said.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the exhibition last night, Hilmy emphasised the fact that the paintings would be hung in the most expensive rooms of the resort and wished more progress for the local artists.

This is the second resort commission for Afu, a 12 year break after the first one.

“The tourism industry has an obligation to help develop the local artists, as it would be mutually beneficial for both industries,” says Afu.

Coco Collection will be on display until July 14 every weekday from 10:00am to 4:00pm at National Art Gallery.


Coral through the eyes of an artist

The ‘How Blue is Your Ocean’ exhibition launched yesterday at Male’s National Centre for Arts, featuring a selection of works by Indian artist and environmentalist Bipasha Sen Gupta.

Gupta’s works depict an array of hazy underwater scenes with embossed corals spreading across the canvas like capillaries.

“I’ve seen a lot of coral as a Maldivian. But this is the first time I’ve seen it through the eyes of an artist,” said Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam, opening the exhibition.

“As you stare at the paintings a while you grow to understand the deep message of how important coral is to an island nation like the Maldives. Islands are sustained by the reef, islands are protected by the reef, and the sand and building blocks come from the reef,” he said.

“The sea water is rising at 2mm per year, reefs grow at 7-12mm per year, and it’s important that reefs kept up with rising seas. However rising surface temperatures and increasingly acidic water is slowing the growth of the reefs, and many in the Maldives are slow to recover from the effects of bleaching.”

Gupta spent a year working on 29 paintings of coral after being inspired during a visit to the Maldives in 2005 – after she learned how to snorkel and explore “the rainforest underwater.”

“God does not exist in the empty temples we build – the mosques, churches and synagogues – but in the small miracles of life,” she said.

The event was organised in collaboration with the National Centre for the Arts, the Indian High Commission and the Maldives Marketing & Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) in celebration of World Environment Day.

The exhibition is opened to public from 10.00am to 4:00pm and from 7:00pm to 9:00pm.


‘How Blue Is My Ocean’ art exhibition to mark World Environment Day

The Maldives Marketing & Public Relations Corporation (MPRC) and the National Centre for the Arts are organising an art exhibition for World Environment Day.

The exhibition will feature works by Indian artist and environmentalist, Bipasha Sen Gupta.

The exhibition will be opened to public on June 6 from 10.00 to 16.00 and from 19.00 to 21.00.


Puducherry Blue: around South Asia in 32 artworks

A collection of works by artists from across SAARC’s nine member countries has gone on display at Male’s National Art Gallery, ahead of the 17th SAARC summit to be held in Addu City later this year.

The Puducherry Blue exhibition, which will run at the gallery until June 12 2011, aims to bring together various works from South Asian artists that were produced at an arts camp held in Puducherry, India, in 2010.

The collection presents a combination of various techniques; from more impressionist captures of national life such as Shwa in Tein Pagoda by Myanmar’s Kyaw Shein, to more contemporary takes on regional art – such as in the output of India’s R Balu, whose Timeproof exhibit does away with the conventional paint on canvas approach entirely.

The sole Maldivian work in the exhibition is provided by artist Mariyam Omar, whose work ‘Epiphany’ teases at traditional images of Maldivian dancing seemingly obscured by somewhat more contemporary artistic techniques – or liberal splashings of paint depending on one’s own viewpoint.

Speaking during the event’s Male’ opening, the Maldives’ Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Dr Mariyam Zulfa said that it was an honour for the country to host the exhibition, which has already toured a number of other SAARC nations.

“I am very delighted to have some of the artists here today who have travelled all this way to take part in this exhibition,” she said. “I’m sure if we can get ourselves organised we can take some of your works that we see here tonight for the SAARC summit that is being held in Addu City later this year. It will be our pride and joy to display these works at the [summit].”

Beyond the aesthetic value of the exhibition itself, Zulfa said she hoped the regional collaboration behind the exhibition would lead to wider number of events taking place at the gallery in a bid to inspire and develop local artists in the country.

“Hopefully, we can get the art community here a little more organised and learn a lot from your own experiences in the field of art,” she told those in attendance.

The exhibition has been arranged in collaboration with the High Commission of India in Male’, which has backed a number of arts projects in the country, including an arts camp earlier this year that saw a number of local and Indian artists gathering in Gan, Addu Atoll.

Indian High Commissioner Dnyaneshwar Mulay said at the exhibition launch that he believed that bringing together artists from across the region served to highlight the importance of connectivity between the  SAARC nations as well as the role that art plays in it.

“[Art] makes you think about what is the true meaning of life. Why do we have this urge to connect with people? Why do we paint for example? That is its beauty,” he said.

The Puducherry Blue exhibition will remain on display at Male’ National Art Gallery until June 12. More information is available through the National Gallery on 331 0729.