Addu-based arts camp targets overturning Maldives’ cultural limitations

This week will see the continuation of a ten-day International Artist’s Camp that organisers claim will for the first time bring together figures from both Indian and Maldivian society to try and overcome concerns about cultural limitations across the country’s atolls.

The camp, which has been organised by local association the United Artists of Maldives (UAM) and the High Commission of India, Male’, will see 14 artists – five from India and nine from the Maldives – gathering in Gan, Addu Atoll between 10 March to 21 March.

The project has been devised in order to produce a body of work expected to be put on show in Male’ as well as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the UAM has said.

Indian artists like Saurabh Narang and Gurdheep Singh Dhiman will join together with young artists from across the Maldives to collaborate and attempt to raise the profile of both their own artistic work and the cultural output of the nation as a whole. Other similar events are expected to be held around the region at later dates, the UAM said.

Speaking at the launch of the camp on Thursday 10 March in Male’, Mohamed Solih, honorary counsul of thailand in the Maldives and a UAM patron, said that although it may not always be apparent, “art is everywhere” and served to demonstrate how ideas can come in many forms, whether detailing happenings in the past, present or the future.

“However, it is sad to note that art and cultural activities are lacking in many areas. Budget cuts in the schools have impacted [these activities,” said Solih. “It is therefore important for all art lovers to unite and promote [culture] around the country.”

Solih said that in order to try and promote cultural pursuits in the Maldives, it was important to speak to people who did not understand the value of art and try to point out that music and reading material that were part of many people’s lives were all products of an artists’ vision.

“All of us know that arts are of equal value in our economy. In our schools and in our daily lives this is not a popular stance,“ he claimed. “Yet with some studies showing that music helps with learning and visual arts helps students with abstract thinking, this argument needs to be voiced over again. I am only one voice; but when one voice though is joined with many more, the effect is significantly increased.”

Using some artistic flourishes of his own, Indian artist Saurabh Narang said that he believed that like a seed, a nation’s art needed to be “nurtured and supported”.

Taking the Maldives’ natural assets as an example, Narang added that in flying into the country, the aerial views of blue depths and deep waters afforded by the experience were a powerful way to spark imagination.

In looking at the impacts of the art camp, Indian High Commissioner Dnyaneshwar Mulay claimed that the event was a historic development in the Maldives, particularly in how the nation perceived itself politically and socially.

“Political histories are always documented, but the social histories and, more important than that, the cultural histories are not always documented,” he said. “Culture is the true soul of humanity and unless the soul is solid, healthy, no revolution of any kind can be sustained.”

In trying to strengthen this notion of “soul”, Mulay said he believed that artists, musicians, painters, and performers of various instruments and arts were a key part of national identity.

“I’m very happy that the movement of democracy that started in the Maldives is now taking its true shape by spreading cultural values,” he said.

However, Mulay said that he had wished to see a stronger presence from the Maldives Government at the event, whose support was praised as being very important in raising the profile of cultural identity among the people of the Maldives.

“Personally I wish there was a more formal and stronger presence from the government, particularly the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, which has been a very important part of a partnership and cooperation to move forward,” he said. “I hope the message will get through that we do value their support.”

With the current Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Dr Mariyam Zulfa away on business in Berlin at the International Tourism Bourse (ITB) trade show, a unnamed source within her office had said it had therefore been impossible to attend.

However, beyond the ministry pursuing its own cultural and artistic programmes, the same source said that with a number of civil servants such as Ahmed Naeem being important members of the UAM, it was difficult for any involvement without raising suspicions of a “conflict of interests”.

Nonetheless, President Mohamed Nasheed last week addressed the significance of art and culture, as well as how the government hoped to nurture it, as part of his 2011 opening parliamentary address.

The president claimed that on the back of events like the Hay Maldives literary festival being held in the country for the first time last year, the government was looking to try and develop local skills and talent with the aid of an Arts Council and Heritage Council during 2011.

Beyond the possible challenges facing the government in pursuing the promotion and developments of arts and culture in the Maldives, other sectors of society such as religion are also an important part of understanding national identity.

Ibrahim Nazim, a co-founder of religious NGO, the Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM) told Minivan News that when it came to the role of art in a strongly Islamic nation like the Maldives, the organisation personally had a very specific view of culture in the country.

“What I would say is that our [the IFM’s] stand is that we see more western types of music, such as those involving guitars and other instruments as being discouraged under Islam,” he said. “Some forms [of music] may be permitted. Such as using instruments like hand drums. But generally we believe music is discouraged”

Nazim said that in areas such as visual arts, the IFM also held some reservations, such as in films where false names or false identities were being assumed by actors.

“These are things we see as being discouraged in Islam,” he said.

Nazim added though that there were forms of arts that were welcomed as important parts of Islamic faith, not least in the guise of architecture and scripts carved into walls and wood that he believed were very beautiful.

“There have been Muslim artists in fields such as architecture and these are most welcome,” he said. “We welcome forms of art provided that it does not resemble any Christian forms [of culture]”.