Just another typical sleigh in the Maldives…happy holidays to all! Back in early January!
B A L A N C E of C U L T U R E
Just another typical sleigh in the Maldives…happy holidays to all! Back in early January!
Maldives is a country that has been on my radar since my first visit to the atoll nation several years ago. I've been closely watching the developments in Male since February 7, when President Nasheed was ousted from power by what he calls a "military coup."
The surge of women protest groups has been one of the most interesting and inspiring occurrences the past month. In this Muslim nation, these women have banded together to voice their discontent with the coup, even being dealt with unnecessary force by local police (the police brutality against protesters in Male has been constantly brought up by human rights activists).
One of the most surprising details to surface this week was the unlikely position of current President Waheed Hassan's brother, Naushad Waheed, who lives in the UK. Apparently Naushad is "so upset over developments that he has taken to the streets of London to distribute antigovernment leaflets."
Of his brother, Naushad states that "He believes that he is serving his country as the leader of a legitimate government, but I do not agree with him. The new government I believe is guilty of committing human rights abuses against the opposition."
During the last few years, it seemed that the Maldives as a nation was ready to pursue a path to progress. It became a democracy, flourished with foreign investments and high tourism growth, and was pushing for global climate change education. (Some of its low-lying islands are already submerged due to climate change.) With the unfortunate chaos that consumed the capital earlier this year, it's up to the traditionally unpolitical local women's groups and people close to those in power (like Naushad in London) to strive for the continued efforts of the past few years.
With all of this KONY talk buzzing online, it's disappointing that the developments in the Maldives -- which some account as the precursor to the Arab Spring -- has made relatively little headway in global communications.
Hopefully the new documentary film The Island President will put more of this small yet geopolitically-important country in our international conversation.
The political turmoil in Male, the capital of the Maldives, continues to escalate as Islamic extremists have enforced their "Taliban-style intolerance" not only on the streets of the city but also towards the various ancient 12th century Buddhist artifacts housed in the Maldives National Museum.
A senior museum representative stated that the history of the Maldives' Buddhist past has effectively been "erased," as the delicate coral and limestone objects have zero chance of being restored due to their brittle and age. Five men have since been arrested for this.
An interesting fact here: the Maldives National Museum was built and financed by the Chinese government and presented to the Maldives on July 10, 2010. Considering that this Indian Ocean paradise is now a premium destination choice for many newly-wealthy Chinese travelers -- and conveniently located just south of India, China's regional geopolitical sparring partner -- we can probably expect to see much more Chinese influence in Maldivian society in the the next decade.
The Maldives is clearly in a challenging phase of its current political and social existence. The recent coup of President Nasheed, the society's religious "soul searching" (to put it nicely), its frontline position in the battle of climate change, and its internationally-powerful tourism industry is a perfect storm of dynamic factors that will define the country's bumpy road ahead.
I just hope that its pre-Islamic past is not further deleted from history's documentation by modern day "radicals." So tragic.
Considering all he has accomplished in just a few years in the educating world leaders and citizens about climate change, Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed -- the first democratically-elected leader of the island nation -- has quit amid growing protests.
Some are calling it a coup or mutiny. Instead of digging his heels in his position, Nasheed decided against using force to maintain his power. He was quickly replaced in about an hour by his VP Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik.
While most people around the world may not see or feel the effects of climate change directly, the citizens of the Maldives have it quite differently. Because the nation has the lowest level surfaces on earth, they have been struggling with continuously rising sea levels which have already overflowed parts of the country. The now former President Nasheed had been studiously working with other neighboring countries to prepare for a mass exodus of Maldivians to the mainland, perhaps within decades.
Fingers crossed that the next President has the foresight to continue these urgent efforts regarding climate change. He really doesn't have a choice!
Yuan Xikun is yet another important and exciting Chinese artist who is extremely well known in his home country but also a familiar face in the international context. Xikun recently opened an exhibit in the Maldives' National Art Gallery and also made a stop in New York City last week for his US exhibit "Two to Three Dimensions: Blend of Contemporary Chinese Art and Western Aesthetic," which was co-hosted by The China Institute in America and E.G.G. Strategic Alliance at the CUE Art Foundation.
"Two to Three Dimensions: Blend of Contemporary Chinese Art and Western Aesthetic" features 25 of Xikun's lauded contemporary paintings and sculptures provided by the Yiyuan Society, which is China's largest private museum. Yiyuan Society's mission isn't simply to showcase art by both established and upcoming artists, but also to promote cross-cultural understanding and international exchanges between China and the rest of the world. The museum highlights both art history as well as contemporary art through its myriad interdisciplinary conservation and education programs.
Xikun, distinguished as both an artist as well as environmentalist, speaker, educator and philosopher, has been heavily involved in the progression of China's pollution control and environmental protection issues for decades. In the 1990s he facilitated an important loan between the World Bank, Yunnan province, and the Kunming Municipal government which went towards Dianchi Lake's pollution efforts and has since been active with multidisciplinary approaches to such public campaigns.
Recently at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, Xikun was recognized by UN Under Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme Achim Steiner with an award for "UNEP Patron for the Arts and Environment."
Xikun's public education of the environment continues all around the world today. The UNEP in Kenya and Beijing Zoo have installed his works to support their own aims at educating the youth and general public on local environmental issues. He continues to exhibit his multidisciplinary work within both museum and institutional walls as well as the public outdoor sphere -- Xikun's upcoming work is a highly anticipated "sand sculpture" in the Maldives, which will be comprised of sand from five different continents and water from the two Arctic Poles. This will surely be an amazing sight to experience!
Be sure to keep up with Xikun's future projects -- he is a substantial figure in art and the environment, as well as a leading creative mind in China's compelling contemporary culture and soft power.
At this point in my life I've visited numerous remote beaches and islands around the world and so far none of them have ever come close to the atolls of the Maldives in terms of beauty, privacy and uniqueness. While most people from the US bristle at the +24-hour trek to reach this distant and secluded place, the exhausting journey is amazing in and of itself (we call it the "Indian Jones" journey).
The region's sugary white sands are primarily submerged only a few feet below warm crystal blue waters that reach the flat horizon in what seems to be in the middle of nowhere -- and indeed, the nearest land mass is at least 1,000 miles away from any given Maldivian island. For me, it is truly the most stunning location on our planet.
These amazing low-level waters is what makes the Maldives claim some of the most spectacular sandbars and lagoons in the world. But this very same attribute is what worries the leaders of this Muslim nation: rising sea levels have thrust this small country at the forefront of planet Earth's climate change battle.
It's very easy to dismiss notions of climate change when you're living so comfortably in the US or any other western society. Even though first world countries are the ones creating the majority of the world's pollution, it is the less-powerful states that often end up dealing with the aftermath before anybody else has to.
Fabien Cousteau, who took the photo above (yes, he's Jacques' grandson) recently went diving deep in the Baa Atoll with a crew of concerned environmental experts and discovered that much of the area's coral is in pretty bad shape (what they call "bleached"), thanks to pollution by man, natural causes, as well as rising water temperatures.
The poor health of the region's oceanic plant life -- and the rising water levels in these atolls -- is an ominous signal for us to keep researching the effects of climate change and strive to discover what can be done for those in the most urgent need. The Maldives will ultimately have to make some kind of extreme decision over the next decade, as many of these beautiful islands will be submerged in our lifetime.
Any disruption to the Maldives will be a huge loss for this planet. I just can't imagine not having this travel option as the destination it currently is -- let's not only be relegated to the accessible and conventionally-pretty landscapes of most tourist traps!
Other cool news: prominent Chinese artist (and environmentalist) Yuan Xikun is currently exhibiting his art in Male at the National Art Gallery. His opening talk was attended by local artists as well as the new Chinese Ambassador to the Maldives Yu Hongyao and Deputy Minister of Tourism, Arts & Culture Mamduh Waheed.
Yuan's upcoming sculpture project will comprise of sand from five continents and water from the two Arctic Poles, which he will discuss with Maldivian President Mohammed Nasheed on Wednesday.
The exhibit’s main theme is that extreme climate change in the past made humans very adaptable, an interesting theory based on limited data and lots of speculation. But its huge flaw is that it it [sic] leaves visitors with the distinct impression that human-caused global warming is no big deal — even though our understanding of the grave threat posed by that warming is based on far, far more research and data.
The exhibit’s major intellectual failing is that it does not distinguish between 1) the evolution of small populations of tens (to perhaps hundreds) of thousands of humans and pre-humans over hundreds of thousands of years to relatively slow, natural climate changes and 2) the completely different challenge we have today: The ability of modern civilization — nearly 7 billion people, going up to 10 billion — to deal with rapid, human-caused climate change over a period of several decades (and ultimately much longer).
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