Art, history, education, and corporate sponsorship: The case of the 3000 photos

Islanders Education, the management of Billabong School issued a statement in response to the outrage on social in relation to a contributor’s comment on questioning the censorship of former President Nasheed from the “3000 Photos of our History” exhibition organised by the school and inaugurated by President Yameen at the National Art Gallery, Male’, Maldives on 7 August 2015.

Prior to the hype on social media on this issue, the exhibition was advertised on the school’s Facebook page as “3000 photos of our History” celebrating 50 years of Independence at the National Art Gallery. No reference was made to a certain period in history. No reference was made to the basis of selection or non-selection process of the photos according to subject, or omissions in periods of the Maldives’ history. In other words, a curator’s written or expressed perspective on an exhibition named after such an important aspect of our heritage and culture as a nation, i.e., “3000 photos of our History” of the Maldives, was non existent.


However, the response statement issued by the school’s management stated that the exhibition consisted of pre-2005 photos of President Gayyoom, including preceding presidents. It states, “Having said above, we have featured photos of Presidents Yameen Abdul Gayyoom, Mohamed Waheed and Mohamed Nasheed before they were Presidents under the People’s section at the Exhibition. We have also featured covers of “Dhagandu Dhahana” and “Sangu”, both contributions to historical literature and journalism, respectively, by President Nasheed before he was President.”

If the concerned public are to take the statement as the real curator’s perspective and intention, the questions that arise then are, why wasn’t this information or intention outlined in detail in a curator’s a concept note on the exhibition – a note displayed for public that embodied what the exhibitor envisioned to be the “history of Maldives”? Was it purely out of ignorance or inexperienced innocence that the exhibitor did not think of doing it until they came to face the confrontations by offended social media users who felt strongly that President Nasheed should be represented fairly as the country’s first democratically elected leader who brought about several revolutionary democratic changes to the country’s political history, in an exhibition organised on the subject of “history” by a leading school of Maldives, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Maldives’ independence, inaugurated by the current President, while former President Nasheed remained under house arrest after being sentenced to 13 years of jail on terrorism charges that are believed to be unjust and unlawful by the majority of Maldivians and a weighty spectrum of the international community?

As one of the interviewed persons suggested in an article relating to this issue on The Maldives Independent, “instead of calling it ‘historic photos of Maldives”, shouldn’t the exhibition be called “the pre-democratic era of Maldives”?

Remember, the purpose of the questions are not to vilify the exhibitors of an exhibition.  A school is in focus because it is an educational institute that hundreds of young minds depend upon for their intellectual development.

The real concern, on the other hand, is for the state of corporate slavery brewed by the current system that claims to govern “creative endeavours” for artists, writers, and historians, etc., where public institutions such the National Art Gallery, by asking an individual artist to pay of Rf 3,000 per day for exhibition space, forces them to seek or beg for corporate sponsorship on their own for handouts to be published or hold public exhibitions. As with this exhibition, what is the management of the school defending? Is it their sponsorship of a curator or are they taking responsibility themselves for the content of an exhibition curated by another?

The outrage at hand is due to wider concerns that are deeply affecting our democratic history and the role played by art and art funders, in times of much apprehension and anxiety in relation to freedom of expression and how artists and historical scholars are able to access public spaces and avenues for creative expression without compromising on truth and belief. In such a context, the public, or in this case parents, have every right to expect more responsible and ethical stands from corporate entities, especially those aiming to function in the realms of education, art, and history.


1 Comment

  1. Ahmed says:

    Dear Nisa, as a parent of billabong, i regret to say that you are now getting very personal. back to back articles attacking the school. Perhaps you missed out the initial interviews given before the opening on TVM and SUN by the school. The purpose of the exhibition was given clearly and you have now chosen to censor that purpose from the article you have written here.

    So for the benefit of the readers, please also go and read the statement given by the school on their website. When one states that it is censorship in this context means suppressing all parts of Nasheed from exhibition and school has clearly demonstrated that 3 photos of Nasheed was present (including a portrait) and 2 of his seminal literary contributions to history was also included.

    I look forward to your third article.

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