Maldivian artists occupy the National Art Gallery
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20 March 2012, Male’, Maldives
42 days since the coup d’état, six years after the inauguration of the country’s first National Art Gallery tonight it was teeming with silently protesting young local artists. Walking around with placards depicting the recent gruesome police violence, the silent protestors formed a mobile exhibition parallel to the official opening ceremony of Breathing Atolls: Japan-Maldives Contemporary Art Exhibition. This is the first art gallery opening since a military coup backed by the former dictatorship brought down the first ever democratically elected government. Afzal Shafiu and Ali Nishan the only two local artists that were featured in the Breathing Atolls exhibition and the majority of the visitors unanimously joined in with the demonstrating artists
in supporting their message:
“NO FREEDOM! NO EXPRESSION! Maldivian Artists suppressed under illegitimate government protests for the freedom to express. Freedom of Expression is a fundamental right, yet, a space for creative and artistic flourishing has been denied to us violently and brutally by this Police State. The continuing abuse of fundamental rights and freedom must stop!”
Tonight, for the first time ever there was heavy police presence (in riot gear) at the art gallery and surrounding compound attempting to disperse the demonstrating artists and at times denying them entry into the gallery. These artists demonstrated silently calling for an end to police brutality and restoration of order through immediate elections. International artists may not be aware of the current relapse into repressive situation in the Maldives.
Since the coup violent crackdowns have begun, imposing an atmosphere of fear and repression. Members of the general public including political activists continue to be terrorized by the police and defense forces on the street. Fear and repression by security forces, as well as seeing old faces of dictator Gayyoom’s regime back in power marks a return to darker days of authoritarian rule that Maldivians thought they had overcome during the last three years. These developments treated to undo the huge gains made by the Maldives in strengthening its infant democracy with daily onslaught of violence unleashed upon citizens and violations of fundamental rights and freedom.
It is also noteworthy to mention that the Minister of Tourism, Foreign Minister and the newly installed head of National Centre of Art, Ali Waheed (coup president Dr.Waheed’s brother) were escorted by police personnel while viewing the artwork on display. On the other hand coup president Dr.Waheed’s younger brother Naushad Waheed (an artist currently residing in the UK) is a vocal opponent condemning the coup and calling his brother to step down.
Meanwhile just a few blocks away police were attacking and arresting people peacefully protesting outside coup defense minister’s residence calling for an end to the ongoing state sponsored terrorism against Maldivians. And a couple of hours earlier riot police brutally dispersed a crowd gathered near the Justice Square protesting against the coup.
Artists and artistic expression were systematically suppressed during the dictatorship and art was never considered a medium for political expression. It was simply commodified and sold as souvenirs for tourists. But the young courageous artists tonight took one giant step for all the artists in the nation.
for more information please visit: mvdemocracy.com
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