Participaton key focus of provocative National Gallery exhibition

Societal challenges in addressing the prevalence of child abuse within the Maldives was the central theme of a one-day contemporary art exhibition held at the National Art Gallery in Male’ on Saturday.

Ismail Asif, who coordinated the exhibition along with a number of fellow local artists, said each installation aimed to focus on fears of how “common” child abuse had become within the Maldives, partly as a result of an unwillingness to discuss and tackle the matter within society.

“[The exhibition] is about trying to break taboos, it really is a challenge to discuss these matters.  The system has so many flaws we wanted to depict; these are flaws within the education system, the judicial system and wider society,” he said.

Despite the difficult subject matter, organisers claimed that after three weeks of work, the exhibition, which ran from 4:00pm to 6:00pm, aimed to encourage participation from members of the public to try and encourage discussion about child abuse.

Asif talked about the exhibition’s wider themes, without trying to play down the provocative nature of the installations.

“We very much wanted to focus on participation, normally when it comes to trying to address child abuse as an issue, people will just have a poster or banners they can look at concerning the problem.  We wanted to try and give more a sense of looking through the eyes of the victims,” he said.

The exhibition itself combined installations involving a sculpture of a female figure holding up a toilet, depicting what Asif claimed was the discrepancy between national perceptions of the  traditional status of local women and their treatment within real life.

Among perhaps the more outré installations on display at the yesterday’s exhibition was a specially-constructed walkway that required members of the public upon entry to pass through a small passageway with artificial hands attached to either side of the exhibit.

Asif said that the exhibit was used to open the event to try and reflect themes concerning harassment of vulnerable young people.

Scale of the problem

In recent years, local authorities and NGOs have released a number of findings trying to detail the extent of child abuse and wider sexual assaults within society.

The state-run Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital’s (IGMH’s) Family Protection Unit reported in 2010 that the centre was notified of 42 cases of rape between 2005-2010. Most of these cases were found to involve minors.

According to the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, 13 rape cases were reported last year alone, the majority of which most were gang rapes or assaults involving minors.

Almost one in seven children of secondary school age in the Maldives have been sexually abused at some time in their lives, according to an unpublished 2009 study on violence against minors.

Rates of sexual abuse for girls are almost twice as high than for boys at 20 percent – one in five girls have been sexually abused – while the figure for boys was 11 percent. Girls are particularly at risk in the capital Male’, the report found.