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Many come to the Maldives, the smallest Asian country in landmass and population, for seclusion, tropical islands with pristine white beaches, luxury hotels and breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean. But take a trip into Malé, the bustling capital city of the Maldives, and immerse yourself in the rich culture of the island nation, from 17th-century mosques to contemporary art galleries.
The intimate National Art Gallery is located in Sultan Park, a leafy oasis in tiny but bustling Malé. Opened as a reaction to the lack of spaces in which to showcase Maldivian arts and culture, the National Art Gallery was founded by the government of the Maldives in 2005. Its debut exhibition, Maldives Contemporary, featured the works of 29 Maldivian painters. The gallery has gone on to acquire an extensive permanent collection of works by local artists, which includes Hassan Ziyad’s Tsunami, a realistic landscape depicting the destruction wrought by the 2004 tsunami. In 2012, the gallery hosted the first full-scale contemporary art show in the country, Breathing Atolls, a collaboration between artists from the Maldives and Japan, which explored the effects of climate change on small island nations like the Maldives.
A small gallery that manages to show a great amount of both traditional and modern Maldivian art, Esjehi is located on Medhuziyaraiy Magu in a beautiful building dating back to the 1870s. Esjehi Art Gallery hosts exhibitions on a regular basis, with much of the local art exhibited available for purchase. The intimate nature of the gallery means that visitors often have the opportunity to meet artists in person to discuss their work. Among the local artwork on display are intricately hand-carved items, as well as traditional and modern paintings. Esjehi Art Gallery also regularly hosts workshops for budding artists to encourage creativity in the island nation.