Ibrahim Ali: moulding creative youngsters in Maldives and abroad through art

This might come as a surprise to those of us like me who have little to no artistic skills, but everybody is an artist! That’s at least what one self-taught Maldivian artist thinks. And he has set out to prove that through his own style of art and art classes.

Ibrahim Ali started exploring his talent at a very young age, painting and creating art pieces. While going to high school in capital Male, he discovered a small art shop right in front of his school. Luckily, he got a part-time job at the shop run by a local art graduate. That gave him access to a wider range of materials and more opportunities to further explore his skills.

But right after he graduated from high school, the art shop closed and Ali had to find a job. Finding work in the field of arts was almost impossible in the Maldives where art was still not appreciated. So, like most fresh school graduates still looking to build a career, he took up a job at the Bank of Maldives’ (BML) branch at the main airport.

Ali chats with a guest during his art exhibition at LUX* South Ari Atoll. PHOTO/ LUX*

For Ali, the five years that he spent doing the boring desk job at the bank branch became the stepping stone to finding his inner calling. At the airport, he was introduced to “a family” of airport representatives from the resorts across the Maldives. Together they enjoyed coffees, cigarettes and chit chats. Soon enough, he was drawn to the hospitality industry, and started looking for a job in a resort. That search yielded in a job at the finance department of One&Only Reethi Rah resort.

“While working at the resort, I got the chance to make decorations for different occasions like Easter, Christmas and Halloween. During these chances, the resort discovered my talent and I got the chance to move to the Art Studio where I created art pieces and conducted art lessons for the guests,” Ali tells me, during a chat at LUX* South Ari Atoll resort.

“This is where everything started shining in my career. There I realised that this has always been the dream that I wanted to pursue.”

Ali conducts an art class in Japan.

When Ali joined the art studio at Reethi Rah, he was still a newbie. Pottery was a big part of the art classes offered by the studio, but he knew nothing about it. He learned a bit about the art of pottery from the resident artist and self-taught it through trial and error. But to make things worse, the resort’s resident artist Lilia left soon after, leaving the art studio at one of the most luxurious resorts in the country solely in his hands.

“I was scared because our clientele was the ultra-rich. So there was no chance for any obvious mistakes, but I was still a beginner. Lucky for me, I was able to learn pottery on my own and conduct classes. My new manager Haneef was also very helpful. And through that, I created amazing bonds with kids from around the globe which made them come to the property just to take my classes,” Ali recalls.

Those bonds remain strong to this day, as guests who had attended his art classes at Reethi Rah still visit him in Japan, where he lives with his wife and son since December 2014.

In his wife’s native Japan, Ali has discovered more opportunities to grow as an artist. After spending his initial months in Japan  without a job because of language barriers and his lack of a college degree, he landed a job as an English teacher at a newly opened language school for children. With Ali as the primary teacher, the school started with just one student in January 2015, and in a year expanded to accommodate 20 students.

At first it started as a regular English language class, but Ali was a born-artist and he knew he had to quench his thirst to instil his knowledge in arts into the young minds that came to him for guidance. So he introduced an art class at the school for the first time during the summer break. It was well-received by the parents and kids alike, as it combined art with language. Now he teaches English at several schools in Japan using the concept of art, enabling children to learn language through real situations and by creating a piece of art together. Community centres in different parts of Japan are also benefiting from his knowledge.

“I couldn’t have come this far without the help and support of my family in Japan and in the Maldives, especially my wife and son. Living in Japan is difficult and she works full-time to support the family, acting as the leader of the family in order to let me do what I love to do,” Ali says.

Ali conducts an art class at a community centre in Japan.

For his next move, Ali is looking to conduct visiting artist programmes at resorts in the Maldives.

“I would like to continue sharing my knowledge skills and creating those memories to a lot of people,” he says.

His first stop was the LUX* South Ari Atoll in mid-August. On a personal invitation of Hussain Afeef, Regional Director of Training, Development and Quality Assurance at LUX* South Ari Atoll, Ali conducted sessions for interested guests, where they learned about several forms of arts and crafts, including coconut art, marble art, shrinking paper art and accessory making. Guests who signed up for the four days of classes learned to make creative accessories and vibrant artworks from everyday materials found in the Maldives such as coconuts and shells.

Ali during a class at LUX* South Ari Atoll.

At the fresh setting of the chic beach resort, Ali also held an exhibition of his own art series, called Turquoise. The series presents the natural beauty of the Maldives, especially its turquoise blue waters, through his imagination.

“My artworks are driven by ideas about creating art using everyday materials like a fallen coconut, which people would throw away. I make sure they have a fun experience, and create a memorable painting or an art piece which they would hang back in their homes to always remember to come back to the beautiful place at LUX* South Ari Atoll,” Ali describes his first visiting artist programme.

Ali’s paintings on display at LUX* South Ari Atoll. PHOTO/ LUX*

For now, Ali is back in Japan, moulding young students with his unique blend of language and arts. He also has grand plans for next year, including more visiting artist programmes at LUX* South Ari Atoll and other popular resorts in the Maldives, and to represent his home country at Setouchi Triennale, one of the biggest art festivals in Japan.

But as he improves his own artistic skills and discovers more techniques of art and creativity everyday, he is determined to share his knowledge and experience with his countrymen and those that come to the beautiful islands of the Maldives for a glimpse of paradise.

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