‘Puducherry Blue’ exhibition to be held in Maldives June 5-12

The Indian High Commission and the Maldives National Centre for the Arts are organising the ‘Puducherry Blue’ painting exhibition featuring 32 prominent artists from nine South Asian countries, including Afghanistan, Bhutan and Myanmar.

The exhibition will be opened tomorrow evening by Vice President of the Maldives Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan and Indian High Commissioner Dnyaneshwar Mulay.

The works will be available for viewing by the general public from 10:00-16:00 and 19:00-21:00 on weekdays June 5-12, in Museum building A (Medhuziyaaraiy Magu).


Coffee aesthetics: Untitled Works exhibition

Coffee tempts our taste buds, seduces us with its aromatic smell, and as an ongoing art exhibition showcases: it can also be used to heighten the aesthetic appeal of paintings.

The use of coffee as a medium for art is just one of the things that makes the paintings of Mariyam Omar unique. The other could just be the sheer ambiguity of her work, open to the interpretation of the person viewing it.

“I don’t like to title my paintings. It’s up to the viewer to find meaning in my paintings” says the 30 year-old with a charming smile. When you first ask her the question of what her paintings depict, she throws the question right back at you. She seems fascinated with the interpretation others give to her creation.

Hence the name “Untitled works”, which seems aptly suited for Omar’s first solo exhibition. The 24 paintings on display showcase her signature style, brush strokes of deep colours punctuated by snow-white figures and limbs of men and women.

The exhibition also signals a break from convention as the artwork on display comes with a price tag, giving the possibility for visitors to walk away with a painting.

An outsiders view

“It was during school that I first used coffee in my painting,” says Omar, explaining that this was where she learnt the use of different mediums. Nowadays she uses acrylic, gouache, ink and coffee for her creations.

The brush strokes in her paintings, almost seems like a reflection of the turmoil within us. The swirls, twirls and strokes of the brush could be of anger, frustration or calm and tranquillity, a mirror of our own emotions at a given time.

“I have tried to explore the void that exists in each of us,” says Omar adding that even if one tries to find out things, one is always limited to gaining an outsider’s perspective.

Maybe that explains why the figures in her paintings are so mysterious; rarely do we get to see their faces. In one, a man is almost in the process of walking out of the painting. Leaving behind the myriad background of swathes of blood red and dark colour with the muted green beneath, the only visible part of him is his torso, neck and arm.

It is the unpainted white of the canvas that gives birth to the figures and limbs in her painting. The colours that swirl all around it, forms its outline, but as Omar puts it: “It depends on your perspective, the figures could be the ones that are coloured or not.”

One of the most striking pieces and one that already has the red tag, which marks the pieces that are sold, is a woman with her back to you. Her graceful lines denotes an uncanny feeling that at the same time as you are contemplating her, she is contemplating something in front just beyond your line of vision.

An artist in Maldives

Omar is a graphic artist by profession. “It’s not possible to gain a living in Maldives by being a full time artist” is her explanation.

As well as having taken part in collective exhibitions including ‘Beyond The Tourists Eye, Issue of Identity in Maldivian Art’ ,Omar has also done art residencies in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

In day-to-day life Omar finds it difficult to make the transition from graphic artist to painting. So she gets around it by trying to take off a month each year just to concentrate on painting. Most of the work she has produced for the exhibition was done in a month.

Along the way social upheavings have also spilled onto her canvas. Two paintings on display have titles ‘Lock and Oath 1&2’, a break from her traditions. “It’s my frustration at the haste with which Maldivian judges took the controversial lifetime oath behind locked doors,” explains Omar.

Omar’s creations have moved visitors, that some have already bought her paintings. Jennifer Latheef has already snapped up one of Omar’s paintings. A first time buyer of Maldivian art piece; Latheef says the paintings spoke to her of injustice.

“Her paintings with fragmented body parts, spoke of the mind, body and soul in a fragmented world or a world that fragments people,” Latheef says.

The dozens of visitors streaming in daily would each walk away with their own interpretation. And their lies the appeal of Omar’s paintings. Her paintings move you by their undisputable visual beauty, but also seem to ask questions of you and the world around you.

“Untitled works” will be on display until the 30th of March 2011 at National Art Gallery, each working day from 9 am to 6 pm.


“Pictures paint a thousand words” for tsunami exhibition curator

A collection of children’s drawings and photographs depicting Maldivian perceptions of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami have been unveiled as part of the first exhibition to be hosted at Male’s new National Gallery building, six years to the day that large swathes of South Asia were hit by the devastating waves.

The exhibition is called Drawing the Wave, which combines photographic images with drawings provided by school children from a number of islands on how they remembered the tsunami.

Amidst canvases of bright crayon illustrations depicting cartoon-like trees and vivid wavy blue lines devouring football pitches, houses and even stick-like drawings of people, questions and phrases are written that are said to have expressed the fears of young people across Meedhoo, Madifushi and Buruni; three islands badly hit by the tsunami.

“Are we a sinking nation?”, “We lost our school. We lost our future. Someone lost their parent” and “Don’t we deserve something better?” are just some of the phrases written upon the images drawn up by students in the eighth and ninth grades back in 2005, based on their experiences of surviving the tsunami.

These writings, according to exhibition curator Ragni Afeef, powerfully reflected concerns about the Tsunami from the experiences of children that have lived through the waves.

“There are three or four drawings created by students in grade eight or nine that contained writing that is very moving,” she said, talking of how the words belied the child-like images on display. “They were teenagers at the time, teenagers who had seen computers at their school destroyed and were unable to sit exams. They were frustrated on another level entirely.”

The exhibition, which was opened yesterday evening in the presence of President Mohamed Nasheed and a number of other guests such as the Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Dr Mariyam Zulfa, is expected to remain at the National Gallery for two weeks. It has previously been shown at venues across Norway, from where Afeef is originally from.

“These drawings have travelled a long way,” said the curator during the exhibition’s opening.

Afeef told Minivan News, that she had also contributed a number of photographs to the exhibition of sandals and footwear found discarded and partly destroyed in February 2005, two months after the Tsunami had struck.

During this period, Afeef visited a number of beaches that had been struck by the Tsunami, many of which she had said had been “littered with the footwear” during the devastation.

“I wondered to who did they belong? What is their story,” she said.

Speaking during the exhibition opening, Afeef said that despite the childlike contents of the images, when it came to the seriousness of the content, she believed in the old adage that “a picture can paint a thousand words”.

“This is the first exhibition in the new National Gallery,” she said. “A museum can help explain to a world what it means to be human.”

With the artwork now back in the Maldives, Afeef claimed that she had come “full circle” with the exhibition and was at “the end of this particular journey”, despite her hopes that the government may take the exhibition to the three islands where the art originated from.

However, Afeef claimed that she hoped to fulfill a longstanding plan to return to the islands and try and see how life had changed at the rebuilt schools, “perhaps in a year or so”.

While remaining in touch with a teacher from Meedhoo who helped compile the work shown in the exhibition, Afeef said she had not been able to remain in contact with the children whose work now provided an account of a major moment in Maldivian history for a global audience.

However, as part of what the curator saw as a positive legacy of the exhibition, she claimed that the exhibition had led to collections in Norway that had raised money to provide computers for a future generation of school children in the Maldives.

The Drawing the Wave exhibition is expected to remain on display at Male’ National Art Gallery for the next two weeks. More information is available through the National Gallery on 3310729.


‘Dough Head’ exhibition rises to occasion

How does it feel to have an 8 kilogram lump of dough on your head? The 99 participants of the Dough Portrait series has the answer to that question.

The Dough portraits are the first of their kind to be held in Maldives, features people of all ages and sizes. The one common theme found in the photographs? The lump of dough that covers their faces.

“I wanted to remove the barriers that exist between the person and art,” says Søren Dahlgaard, the artist behind this innovative concept.

A universal medium

Friends and family members of the artist, as well as people who passed in front of the art gallery last year in July, were asked to pose for the portraits.

“I find the process of creating the portraits with the people the most interesting” says Dahlgaard, adding that it’s a very democratic process. Democratic it is – the photos of all those who participated finding a place on the wall of the gallery.

The posers are invited to play with and mold the dough before placing it on their heads.

Some found the dough cold, others say their heads wobbled under the weight of it.

The participants seem to have different reactions to it. Nihama, 24, sits calm and composed, with a lump of dough on her face, as if saying ‘I won’t bat an eyelid.’ Manih,32 is more reflective, doing his own version of David the thinker, a hand holding his dough covered chin. Hassan, 23 and nonchalant, holds a boduberu in his hands, the lengthening dough reaching for it.

“It’s my sculpture material,” says Dahlgaard of the dough, adding that he likes the universality of dough: “Here it’s made into roshi, in Italy it becomes pizza, in India it’s a naan and in France it’s a croissant.”

Sculpture materials like marble and bronze last for 100’s of years, but the dough does not even last a day.

“Photos are also taken quickly as the dough might fall off.”

A question of identity

Some of the earliest paintings were those of portraits commissioned by the rich and the ruling elite, as an everlasting memory.

The focal point of a portrait has always remained the face, with the measure of how good it is being judged by how well an artist can capture the expression or the mood of the person.

Dahlgaard’s photos are a new way of looking at portraits, where the face, the primary identifying feature of a person is hidden.

“The face does not have much to do with the personality, the face is like a mask,” he says.

And yet the mask is not static. The dough changes on 16 year-old Marina’s head, it looks like an inverted bucket with rough edges. On Hajja,21, it seems like a living breathing thing, about to engulf her. On Samfa,63, it seems to mimic her hands, pointing one finger forward.

“The shape always changes, even if you don’t try, the dough moves on its own and changes.”

Just like a face, the way the dough falls seems to give the person a unique identity.

An unusual journey

Like his art, Dahlgaard’s journey to being a full time artist is also unusual. After finishing his studies from the Slade School of Fine Arts in London, Dahlgaard – who comes from Copenhagen in Denmark –  spent two years in Maldives doing a pilot project in farming.

“My wife is Maldivian, and I felt my children would benefit from living in the Maldives for a while.”

Realistically, Dahlgaard says he knew that it would not be possible to make a living creating art straight out of art school.

So he grew vegetables in Hibalhidhoo, an uninhabited island in Baa Atoll while nursing a hidden agenda: “I wanted to create an artists-in-residence island.”

He gave up the idea as it needed too high an investment. “But farming was a challenge and needed creativity as in all jobs.”

Dahlgaard moved back to Copenhagen and entered the art scene. His dough portraits were first produced and exhibited in the National Art Gallery in Denmark in 2008, before moving on to Kosovo and Maldives.

The project will move to eight different locations around the world. “I would like to do the dough portraits and cover famous faces of Hollywood.”

Dahlgaard identifies with the Japanese Avante-Garde group Gutai, active in the 1950’s. Their theme of decay and destruction he says “ is only an element in my way of thinking.” It’s more their approach to making art active that is the mainstay of Dahlgaard’s work.” It’s things like running through canvases, throwing paint, the act of reducing the barrier between people and art.”

As such all of Dahlgaard’s work invites participation: “The Breathing Room”, showcased in Rohde Contemporary in Copenhagen and at the Singapore Biennale in 2008, is a white room. A living breathing room – with walls made of soft pvc canvas, it changes into convex and concave shapes mimicking human breathing.

His next project for Maldives involves the famous portrait painter ‘the dough worrier.’ “I’d like to video the dough worrier in a Maldivian island.”

Strapped with 70 baguettes all over his body and face, Dahlgaard is the worrier that pours paint on to a participant, before clicking a photo.

“It’s the frustrated artist, trying to make a masterpiece.”

But before that Maldives will be transported to Denmark. A documentary about Dahlgaard’s brief foray into farming will be showcased in his home country.

In January, when it will be minus 10 degrees in Copenhagen, “the art center is going to be heated to Maldivian temperature and humidity.” Chilli and tomato plants will be grown, while a replica of Dahlgaard’s office will be re-created there.

In Dahlgaard’s world everyday items become part of art, and the viewer is invited to join in instead of looking from afar.

Dough Portraits will be exhibited at the National Art Gallery until August 10, 2010.

NAG will be open on weekdays from 11:00am to 16:00pm and from 20:00pm to 23:00pm.


Jyotirgamay – Towards Light: an exhibition of Indian paintings

The first thing that strikes you are the colours. Different hues of orange and blue dance flirt with each other on the canvas.

The colours beckon and invite you to look at Maldives through the eyes of an Indian painter.

‘Jyotirgamay-towards light’ is an exhibition by Shashi Thakur.

“I’ve captured everything I feel about this country and painted it on canvas,” says the jovial Shashi.

Maldives on different mediums

Shashi’s vision of Maldives is beautifully captured using different mediums. Oil on canvas brings alive a scene of boduberu. Two men dance with wild abandon, their feyli vivid, the white strips striking, their red shirts wirls while the sea behind whirls.

The sand seems to shift beneath their feet, two herons dancing in rhythm.

A surfer rides in the midst of a surf wave. The brush strokes flow from underneath him and cocoons him in its midst.

“I used Indian ink on formica here, the ink is almost transparent on the smooth surface and there’s a flow to it,” she explains.

Shashi feels that despite the diversity of medium used there is a unity in the paintings.

In Shashi’s paintings the sea churns, swirls, raises – and it’s never far off. Her signature style – quick brush strokes using one colour and mixing them straight on the canvas – gives a zigzag feel to each line.

She has painted fishermen. The entire painting is in blue different hues of it. The fishermen reel in the fish, while the sea swirls and blue arches emanate from a light source on the horizon.

“With the emergence of the glorious sun, I also emerge but unwillingly, from beloved sea,” reads one of the lyrical captions by the Indian High Commissioner, Dnyanesshwar M Mulay, adding a poetic dimension to the paintings.

“The paintings are full of the vibrancy of longing, surging, churning and convergence that enrich life and its process” says Mulay of Shashi’s paintings.

Shashi says the act of painting is almost like a meditation for her, “I’m searching for light, when I with my canvas, I am going towards light.”

Light is very much present in her paintings. Either as a white bird in flight in a painting of a women caught between the surging waves and the orange horizon in front. Or the light that emanates from the surface of all her underwater paintings.

Demonstrating painting to visitors
Demonstrating painting to visitors
Interestingly enough, Shashi has never dived, or snorkeled.

“Luckily here you can stand chest deep in water and still see beautiful corals,” says Shashi, who is planning a dive in the underwater submarine to finally see underwater beauty in all its glory.

Art scene in the Maldives

“Artists all over the world are the same, when I meet other artists I feel like they are my soul mates.”

Among Maldivian painters, Shashi says she particularly likes the works of Suja and Mariyam Omar: “I am fascinated with Mariyam’s style, and her use of coffee in her paintings.”

Shashi has a work in progress, at the art gallery. When art students come by she shows her signature style and lets them try on the canvas: “When they try they know how easy or difficult it is.”

Plans are afoot to bring a group of Indian painters to Maldives in the near future.

“I want them to stay in Maldives for a while and paint this country in their own style,” she says.

She rues the fact that paintings are bought from abroad to adorn walls here.

“Mr Mulay will be conducting an auction of the paintings on the 20th night of this month,” she says, hoping this will encourage more businessmen to buy paintings straight from the painter.

Some of the proceeds will be donated to charity.

Viewed through the paintings of Shashi, the Maldives is a diverse colorful place bursting with energy and beauty.

Jyotirgamay-Towards Light will be held in in National Art Gallery until 22 July 2010. The gallery will be open from 11:15 till 16:00 & 20:00 till 22:30 on weekdays.


Art and human rights merge in Sugar Coated Bright Colours

‘Sew mouths that object, blind eyes that might see’ are the powerful words that confront you when you stand in front of the ‘Three dead monkeys’ piece at the Sugar Coated Bright Colours art exhibition.

The photo is intriguing and disturbing at the same time. The faces are painted white giving them a theatrical feel, a girl with her head thrown back and blood pouring from her eyes, the man in the middle with a devilish grin, a finger to his lips, as if saying ‘don’t talk about this’. A second girl with her mouth sewn shut.

It’s not only art on display – it’s the crucial issue of human rights viewed through the eyes of nine aspiring artists.

The exhibition was planned by local NGO Transparency Maldives to celebrate World Human Rights Day, with funding from Ausaid, UNDP and the EU.

“We planned this as part of our project: ‘I choose to know my rights’,” says Mohamed Thoriq Hamid, project coordinator of Transparency Maldives, an NGO working to improve governance and eliminate corruption from people’s daily lives.


The aspiring artists used different mediums to convey their messages
The aspiring artists used different mediums to convey their messages

Human Rights through Art

The exhibition follows two weeks of multi-media workshops. In line with the unusual theme, the venue for the launch was also unorthodox: Masveringe (Fisherman’s) park.

“We started the workshop with a presentation on Human Rights,” says Thoriq, who believes artists should be at the vanguard of the topic.

Speaking at the launching, chief guest Ahmed Wajeeh said “artists should reflect on issues, and we should open opportunities for creative ideas in society and respect them – even elders like us – as this will in make our society better.”

He reflected upon the importance of civil society and said Maldivians should be thankful to those who take initiative to improve society without taking sides.

The exhibit ‘Give me a chance’ seems to be crying out for that opportunity. Photos of basketball players accompany the plea. The text by Saadha Ahmed highlights an issue that a lot of youth face now – lamenting the fact that most do not have the opportunity to follow careers that interest them.

The artworks aim to challenge perceptions of human rights

“I want the visitor to interpret what this means,” says Shafaath Ibrahim, 18. Displayed in a dark room, the image of a swing is projected on the screen. It seems to change in rhythm, but one can never be sure as a distorted mirror image obscures the swing from time to time.

It could be a depiction of your mood swings, the pace of your life, or how obstacles at times obscure your view of your goals.

“I learned a lot about human rights from that one session,” Shafaath says. As a student of CHSE (Centre for Higher Secondary Education) she feels there needs to be more awareness placed on human rights in secondary schools. She admits that human rights are not yet fully implemented fully in the Maldives, and says it is still a new concept.

Her fellow student Laesha Mohamed, 18, created a sculpture. Made using a mix of wire, clay, paper, nylon and rubber bands, she replicates to perfection the contours of human face with wire.

The face is suspended, while below two hands jut out manipulating items below.

“This piece blurs the line between sculpture and installation,” says Umair Badeeu, facilitator of the workshop along with Mohamed Khayyam Adam (Hassa).

“We asked artists to derive works from information they got the first day.”

Umair is a firm believer in giving creative freedom to artists, and letting them choose their own projects.

The end result he says is impressive for such a short working time: “Here there are space limitations, material limitations; yet each artist has overcome those hurdles to achieve what they wanted,” he says.

Creative freedom is something Moosa Mamdooh Ahmed, 24, holds dear.

“Freedom to create what you want is also a human right,” he says.

Gallery-goers admire the artworks
Gallery-goers admire the artworks

His life-size drawing of a dervish is arresting. The figure is still, with his eyes closed, and at his feet lies a giant snake, coiled and eating its own tail.

“The piece has to do with free will,” he explains. “Animals are stuck in a cycle. Only human beings have the choice to getting out of it: a human can choose to evolve, to learn new things, but the moment he decides he knows, he seals off his mind from learning.”

He questions what he describes as a current lack of spirituality, and says his drawing is about a person’s endeavor to seek answers.

Twenty-four year old Ahmed Afazil questions the futility of war with a series of drawings using watercolor, charcoal and stencil. Kane and Abel, Polpot and Hitler jostle for space with drawings depicting reality and utopia. The wording of utopia is hazy: “I don’t know what the ideal utopia is, but humans have not achieved it yet. There are always wars, people die, and a time of relative peace and again a war for some reason.”

Thoriq sums up the relationship between art and human rights: “Freedom of expression is crucial to artists. They should stay at the forefront of the battle for human rights.”

Sugarcoated Bright Colours can be viewed at H.Merryside,1st Floor (former Cyprea Building), weekdays from 8pm to 10pm, and weekends from 4pm to 6pm and 8pm to 10pm