Turbulent post-February 7 politics trigger ‘artistic renaissance’

A visual art event that would have seen graffiti and street artists gathering to host a live demonstration to encourage young people to vote for change in the upcoming elections, has been postponed.

Organised by the artist known as Feshun, the visual art event was to take place from 4:00pm on Saturday at Raalhugandhu, and continue up until 11:00pm in the evening.

The event was to feature live graffiti painting by numerous artists across various locations around the capital city island along to live music performed by a DJ, intended to inspire the disaffected younger generation to vote.

In recent years, artists have enjoyed greater autonomy and freedom of expression – particularly when covering political subjects.

Following the controversial toppling of former President Mohamed Nasheed on February 7 2012, many artists have turned their talents to highlighting the ‘coup’, and all of the other issues affecting social and political landscape of the island nation.

Many artists who plan to take part in this live event can remember the oppression under the previous dictatorship, and say that five years of creative freedom has helped to inspire artistic creativity. Since the February 7, there has been an upsurge of political statements through art in what one artist calls an “artistic renaissance”.

The Maldives’ answer to Banksy, who goes by the nickname of “Sob Sob”, told Minivan News: “The aim is to involve more people in the movement that Feshun has started. It will continue non-stop until the voting. I am sure it will make a difference.”

Tagging is a way of life for Sob Sob. Now aged 30, he has been painting over the drab walls of Male’s concrete jungle with his 3D graffiti art for more than 12 years.

As the government has cracked down on these graffiti artists and painted over their “works of art” with grey paint, Sob Sob, who once painted a 3D trompe l’oeil of a toilet door to highlight the need for outdoor lavatories being installed near the surf point area, says he will just spray paint another statement.

Asked why he and his peers are using the streets as his art canvas, rather than exhibiting in a museum, he said: “It’s the only way to express to the public. If I exhibited my art work in a museum, only a few would actually see it.”

“The streets are our neighbourhoods and the only place here where we get out to. We live on islands and we have nowhere to go. We are limited by our boundaries. All the islands have been sold as resorts and locals cannot afford to live in luxury. That’s our dream too, the Robinson Crusoe feeling, but the reality for us is working hard and living in a concrete jungle.”

As an artist he is known for making political statements, he says that the main aim of his graffiti is to express what he feels and to tell things like they really are. “Thoughts are meant to be spoken, not just thought,” he said.

“The biggest hand played here was the protest back in 2012 on February 8. Look around Male’ and you will see many of my works they include: ‘Looting the youth and Shooting the Truth’.

“When I felt rage back in Gayoom’s regime, then there was ‘bridge my ass…vote for change’ [in reference to a promised Hulhumale-Male bridge] and ‘Enough is Enough’, which led to our movement in 2008 under the studio called “Freedom Factory”.

Other artists have been campaigning for political change. These include the talented sand artist Afu Shaafiu Hasn who first started making a political statement about the coup in his sand art debut during the SAARC Summit.

His works have been demonstrated in front of live audiences of thousands. He said: “Right now some artists are gearing up for campaigns to encourage the new batch to vote in these upcoming elections.

“We’re setting up events the age group can engage in, like graffiti events, music, 3D street art and other stuff.

Most of the mainstream artists are pro-democratic, and particularly antagonistic towards former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

“We just want people to go and vote, for whoever they wish. It is up to them. GO VOTE,” Hasn says.

“The politics going on here are of no interest to the young people who live here, because most have already lost hope of things getting better,” he adds.

Afu has made some bold statements about the coup in his sand art. ‘Baton Day’ is about the events of February 7 and 8 and the police brutality that ensued, and ‘Feelings’ which deals with the psychological trauma of those events.

“The journey after the coup is very bad. I don’t want to hear the news nowadays. I even gave away my TV when the coup happened and I haven’t a TV since that day,” says Afu.

But is all this art just preaching to the choir? Asked whether the country will see a fair election, he said: “I don’t know, seriously. I can’t think of a way the people in power will simply give it up and go to jail. But yes I have hope. Where there is art, there is hope.”

Baton Day




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