By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai
Beyond the Tourists’ Eye - Issues of Identity in Maldivian Art, and exhibition of paintings by contemporary artists from the Maldives are being held at National Art Gallery in Colombo. The exhibition is organized by the High commission of the Republic of Maldives in association with National Art Gallery of Maldives. This is the first time that, Beyond the Tourists’ Eye tours abroad. There are plans to take the exhibition to New Delhi
Beyond the Tourists’ Eye - Issues of Identity in Maldivian Art was ceremonially inaugurated by Mahinda Yapa Abeywardane, Minister of Cultural Affairs on June 26th 2007, the exhibition will remain open until June 29 th 2007. The viewing hours are from 10am to 4pm. The participating artists are Ablow Arif, Afzal Shafiu Hassan, Mohamed Azzam, Nina Mohamed Manik, Mariyam Naeema Omar and Fathmath Zuhura. There are 28 paintings and installation displayed
It is hoped that taking the work of Maldivian artists to regional venues will help the artists establish themselves in these centers where the art scene is presently much livelier than in the Maldives.
Apart from the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo who will be officially assisting the NAG to organize the exhibition, the Sri Lankan artist group Theertha International Artists’ Collective will also be assisting the National Art Gallery to publicise the exhibition and Maldivian art in general. Three of Theertha members also visited the Maldives in September 2006 to study the Maldivian artist community and to assist the NAG in formulating strategies to develop the artist community and to promote their work both in the country and abroad. At the end of their visit, the group published their observations in a report – Assessment of the Dynamics of the Community of Artists in the Maldivian Community, which is available from the National Art Gallery. The exhibition Beyond the Tourists’ Eye has also been very much a response to the findings of Theertha in that the exhibition tried to reflect some of the issues that were raised in the report.
The main concern identified in the Theertha report was the overwhelming influence of the tourists’ souvenir market on Maldivian artists and their work. The negative influence of the tourist market stifled the creativity of visual artists as they primarily produced ’souvenir art’; or artifacts and objects that served as mementos for the holidays tourists spend in the Maldives. Other issues in the artist community of the Maldives that Theertha had identified in their report include;
1) the lack of representation of the complexity of life in Maldivian society,
2) a disconnection from the traditional arts and crafts of the country, and
3) a lack of exposure to critical feedback. The NAG hopes the organization of exhibitions similar to Beyond the Tourists’ Eye will encourage more artists to explore themes and issues more relevant to Maldivian culture through their art.
Theertha International Artists’ Collective extends its well wishes to the Embassy of Maldives and the National Art Gallery of Maldives for organizing the visual art exhibition, Beyond the Tourists’ Eye. This is an important step for establishing and strengthening art exchange between Sri Lanka and Maldives. This initiative is hoped to give inspiration to more future art interactions.