A year that will live on in infamy. A once in a hundred-year global pandemic, that ravaged livelihoods, put a halt on education, caused worldwide lockdowns, and a multitude of unseen woes that gripped us all.
The saving grace of the entire situation and our fortune (for those fortunate enough) came in the form of the internet and social media, which alleviated some of the restrictions and solitude many of us faced during the various stages of lockdowns and quarantines.
Youth Vision – An Art Workshop in 2020 sought to provide a virtual platform, a safe space, conversations, and guidance in creating art in order to help participants process the mental difficulties brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The YV-Workshop by UNDP Maldives, with support from the European Union, Ministry of Youth, Sports & Community Empowerment, as well as Ooredoo Maldives and executed by Emmenge Pvt. Ltd. concluded with the launch of a virtual exhibit “Ekani Ekuga – An Exhibition by the Youth” and the publication of the “Ekani Ekuga 2020” coffee table book to tell the stories shared and art created by our participants.
Having the workshop virtually removed geographic limitations that allowed for 49 youth from across the country to come together and hear each other's stories, lived realities, and perspectives. The idea of the workshop was to use art as a means to spark conversations and build social cohesion. As such, the workshop saw the participants engaged in thought provoking topics like “Dystopian or Utopian Future – Job Security & Livelihood; Youth for the Environment; Role or Internet in Politics, Governance & Leadership; Violence, Abuse & Trauma; Youth, Peace & Social Cohesion & Gender- Understanding Masculinity & Femininity.”
To kick things off, participants were given an art kit and a fast and reliable internet connection. Making the workshop more accessible for everyone in their respective homes and eliminating potential internet connectivity issues. The mentors of the workshop guided the participants to explore different themes, apply it to their lives, share in their experiences, and gave lessons and help with creating a final art piece at the end of the workshop.
After the first two days of capacity building, the next step for the participants was to write their artist biography. They were asked to dig deep and open themselves up to write their bio’s.
For 26-year-old Mamdhooha, this was a daunting task as she was not comfortable sharing things about herself. “The very first time writing my bio, I did not want to share it. I had it written down and ready but had no plans of presenting it. Seeing other participants share their bios and a few of them reaching out privately to ask me my opinion gave me the courage to share mine. Which was an important moment for me.”
When asked why this moment stands out, she shared “I used to think there was no point in sharing with other people as they would not understand and that there are no benefits to it. But being able to share in the workshop really helped me relax and unburden myself from a lot of the things that had built up over the course of the year. I guess I realized that you can be strong by yourself but without other people you cannot fix what is underneath. You can be strong on the outside but to heal what is inside, you need to share this with others. I would like to tell everyone to just give it a try, find the safe space and the people you feel comfortable and do not worry that they will not understand and just share. Take it from me, it is worlds easier than trying to be strong by yourself.”
Mamdhooha’s words here can resonate with anyone who has ever felt peace in finding someone or a space to share the worries and troubles that were kept bottled up inside. It brings a certain measure of peace to the self, and we can all take a lesson from her words.
“Ikigai,” a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being,” or finding meaningful direction and purpose in life. This was an aspect and lesson from Youth Vision that had a strong impression on Imsa, another of our participants who shared; “so it (Ikigai) is like being paid for what you love to do and doing what you’re passionate about as well as doing something that the world needs. When they (the mentors) first talked about Ikigai, I knew I had heard of it but had never really explored the idea. But the more I thought about it, a person can have multiple Ikigais. It is not just one thing; it can apply to several aspects of life. I come from a very technical and mathematical background and me trying to attempt something creative like art was challenging in a way, but I realized this was something that can be pursued as I found with the concept of Ikigai that you can have multiple passions that you can explore.”
The mentors did a phenomenal job of helping participants in their ideation process, introducing them to different mediums and letting them explore which of these mediums would best help tell their stories.
Imsa’s art piece was a small piece of paper folded into equilateral triangles to create a hexagon. After securing it, the hexagon could be transformed to show three complete images painted in acrylic (though there are total of 9 unique images she creates through jumbling the main three paintings). Below is an account of Imsa sharing the process of choosing her medium and creating her art piece.
“The idea came first; that the best thing anyone can do at any point in their lives is self improvement. I was trying to figure out how to show the transformation of self-improvement through my art piece. I considered using blue light and using thermal paint, though this was not too practical. Then I remembered playing with origami as a kid. I knew this was the answer as I could use the different sides to show the transformations. It is like a fragile piece of paper in your hand, and it is up to you to change it. You are the only one who can like control your life dho? So, it is up to you and you’re dealing with something that is fragile and you have to be careful and through that you go through discovery.”
Anyone who checks out Imsa’s art piece which tells a beautiful story would be surprised to know that this was her first foray into creating art. The story of transformation and self-discovery she shares is evident in her art piece, and it evokes nostalgic remembrance for those observing her tale, told not too differently from ours.
Another art piece, or rather art pieces that has a quality of universality comes from Mamdhooha; “When difficult things happen to me, painting helps me relieve my stress. I paint whenever I feel scared, worried, sad, or even happy. Mostly I paint hands when I feel sad because I want someone to give me a helping hand and I want someone to take care of me. To me, hands are the perfect symbol to express this longing. I made two paintings to express my past and present. The painting with flowers and leaves shows how I stopped feeding my past with the help of my husband. And it shows my identity as a wounded girl is disappearing and I am so much more drawn to ease and simplicity. And it shows how my life is improving beautifully. Second painting shows my past. How I struggled and how broke I was. And how much I needed someone’s help. With the help of my paintings, I want to say to people who have a past like mine to learn from the past but do not dwell there. Take responsibility for you own happiness. If you want to heal from the past, put your attention on your present moment experience. The past has no power unless you give it power or meaning. Free yourself from the past and live your present.”
A beautiful sentiment, one in which we can all take lessons from. When the question of what she would paint as an additional third piece that represents the future, Mamdhooha replied saying “well it would be my husband’s hand, my hand, and a small baby’s hand with a lot of flowers around.”
Mamdhooha’s third and theoretical art piece speaks to the heart, as great art tends to do. This workshop which saw a total of 49 art pieces showcased at a virtual exhibition had many an art and story that stands as testament to the talent and courage of our participants and some of the best parts of human nature – adaptability, resilience, community, and creativity.