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Painting Dreams - N.T. Hasen Didi
Exhibition at the National Gallery of Maldives 2010
Text by Ifham Niyaz
Photography of artworks by Ahmed Zahid
Design and Layout of original catalogue by Ayeshath Fadwa
Download catalogue PDF (an artwork in itself) 3.2 MB



cover design incorporating the painting Splash by Maldives artist NT Hasen DidiCatalogue cover incorporating the painting Splash.


Zebra Crossing (section)


painting dreams N T Hasen Didi Maldives


Sufis, a painting by N T Hasen Didi MaldivesSufis


Introduction by Mamduh Waheed:
It is with great excitement that the National Art Gallery has curated this collection of works by N. T. Hasen Didi, who is counted among one of the most distinguished intellectuals of our time.

It is rare in the contemporary history of the Maldives that we are able to experience such intimate insights into the workings of a mind that seems to be forever flowing through thoughts and feelings which weave in and out of dreams and realities.

Now in his 80s, N.T.'s paintings and photographs are just but a strand among many of what can be deemed as symbolic of what the 20th century meant to Maldivians. His paintings depict abstract and surrealistic imagery with titles that seem to be or sound like a pun on the visual image depicted. Reminiscent of the surrealist master Rene Magritte's 'The Treachery of Images' (1928-29), N.T.'s works seem to comment on the improbable stemming from what is visible. At times they seem to hint at the childlike and playful nature of imagination, making natural objects look unnatural and surreal.

While N.T.'s paintings on show here seem to have been mined from his dreams or the interaction between his fertile imagination and seen and lived experiences, the photographic works on display tell the story of human beings through the depiction of their hands in various contexts. Initially exhibited in the '90s at the Esjehi Gallery with the title 'Eloquent Hands', the current exhibition is an integral component of the present retrospective. While a body of work on its own, they compliment the paintings and enhance the overall scope and reach of the exhibition by letting us see very different dimensions of an acute and engaged mind.

The gallery is thankful for N.T. for loaning his works to this exhibition. The gallery is also indebted to N.T.'s sons Mohoj and Huchen for providing us with insights into N.T.'s life and works which are captured in the essay especially commissioned for the exhibition catalogue and researched and written by Ifham NIyaz.

Special thanks also go to Ahmed Naeem and Fathmath Filza and all other staff at NAG who have worked under stressful conditions with minimum resources and staff.


Same Generation, a photo by N T Hasen Didi, MaldivesSame Generation - Photo


N.T. once said that a practical, competent person's hands are not the same as an artist's with dreams.
Hands, he says, can be a key to the personality of their owner.

And hands are of much relevance to N.T.'s artistic work.

He calls them the Eloquent Hands.

First exhibited at the Esjehi Gallery in Male in February 1992, the photographic display of N.T.'s Eloquent Hands collection is revived again with his Painted Dreams series.

Here are a series of photographic captures, each telling a story about the human hands; the expression they make, the tasks assigned to them, and their duty to be lined and scarred, to tell the story of their owners to everyone who comes across them.

Through Eloquent Hands, N.T.'s artwork plays a vital and elegant role in refocusing a light on the details that are too mundane to be noted, as with the general attitude towards hands and other elements in life that are usually taken for granted.

The hands displayed in this work have been photographed not by intent at first, says N.T., but by simply being drawn to them unconsciously, until he realised that this was a notion to follow.

These photographs captured two or three decades ago show the essence of seemingly far away times.

The objects in the background, the polyester blouses in the floral-print, the artistry of rare local objects like the woven mat being handled by tactful hands, and the hazy brownish photo prints that seem to have vanished from exhibition walls, all evoke another time, another feeling.

The Eloquent Hands series by N.T. is a collection to be celebrated so that the times and elements in these photographs are made known to Maldivians over and over again.

These are artistic captures that must be revealed; the precise use of hands that braid long curly hair, the strong grasp of hands that grind spices, the innocence of each of these moments and the freedom that comes with these moments, attires and environments.

It shows the co-existence of hands that followed the verses of Quran and hands lifted in prayers to God, together with hands that delicately adjusted a flower on a woman's hair while her bare neck stretches long to accommodate her feminine movements.


Food Preparation - a photo by N T Hasne Didi, MaldivesFood Preparation - Photo


Painting Dreams, the most recent collection of his paintings, give evidence to these words.
The paintings that have been produced by N.T.'s hands are each an ode to his dreams.
They are like verses from a song sung in selected phases and places of an artist's life.
The paintings are all nothing but his dreams, he says.
And like dreams, they are surreal yet sometimes very real.
They are mystical yet unpretentious.
Unfathomable, yet honest.


Empty, painting by N T Hasen Didi, MaldivesEmpty, oil on canvas, 18.5 x 14.5 inches


Road, painting by N T Hasen Didi, MaldivesRoad, watercolour on paper, 16 x 12 inches



portrait photo of N T Hasen Didi
N.T. Hasen Didi, the son of Noomara Ganduvaru Tuttu Manippulu, was born in 1924 in Male, Maldives.

He was educated first in India and later in Majeediya School, Male.

He said he learned colour pencil drawing at school, at the age of twelve.

After school he joined the Home ministry as a clerk and progressed from various jobs in various ministries, until he was fired from the job of Commissioner of the Anti-corruption Board.



The Jungle, painting by N T Hasen Didi, MaldivesThe Jungle, oil on canvas, 22.75 x 16.6 inches


Painting and gardening are N.T.'s hobbies. He has travelled through the atolls of Maldives in various stages of his life.

He reads much and expresses a certain fascination for the writings of Omar Khayyam, as visible in some of his works of art in the eighties.

He writes much too.

Mostly writings related to his hobbies and island travels, including a detailed book about Huvadu atoll in Maldives with his own illustrations and a book about native flowers.


Palette, Painting by N T Hasen Didi, MaldivesPalette, oil on board, 17 x 13 inches


N.T. has been painting a long time.

Among his paintings are minimal yet illuminating black and white illustrations, spontaneous expressions of patterns and landscapes in watercolour, and descriptive and abstract forms in oil, some expressed in brush strokes of bold emotions and others grandly visualising verses written by the artist's favourite poets.


No Sleep, painting by N T Hasen Didi, MaldivesNo Sleep, oil on canvas, 18.75 x 15.5 inches


N.T.'s paintings tell a collage of tales and narratives.

It is as if all the elements and cycles of N.T.'s life are expressed in his collection of works produced over many years.

The mood of his artwork varies with varying concepts and differing phases.

It is as if several different artists have produced these works, each artist expressing their individual circumstances, feelings and inspirations in different styles and differing brush strokes.

N.T.'s artwork seems out of place if compared to the time of its conceptualisation.

As if this is an artist who is ahead of his time, considering the progression of Maldivian art in the last eighty-five years and considering the status of Maldivian art up until today.


Leading to the Jungle, painting by N T Hasen Didi, Maldives Leading to the Jungle, oil on paper, 14 x 10.5 inches


Most of N.T.'s paintings produce an element of mystery.

There is always an untold story that links each of his works to the next, making the viewer wonder about the strings and patches that weave these paintings together.

So much so that there is a continuous temptation to go back to a painting viewed before, just to see how a certain recurring element in it has turned its colour or mood altogether to reveal a totally different thought provoking story.

N.T. uses various prominent symbols in every series of related paintings.

There is the recurring crescent moon that is prevalent amongst his works.

There is the repeated use of a similar island setting, mostly under the dark night sky, in a deep bluish black sea.

There is a certain distinction of altering moods that are vividly created with the expression of dark black seas, calm blue seas, and rough, foaming seas, all painted with the similar static island in the horizon as a background.

And there are other bold variations to this backdrop as in the painting titles 'Splash', where blotches of red, green and black agitate the otherwise serene yet dark setting.

But then, there is the same island setting titled 'Lonely Bird', where the light of day and the sight of the solo bird in flight are used seemingly consciously to give a whole new meaning to the underlying story.

As do the alterations created by the use of driftwood, the paper boat, and the 'One Oar Too Many', floating in the same seas with the same island in the horizon.


Lonely Bird, painting by N T Hasen Didi, MaldivesLonely Bird, watercolour on paper, 16.5 X 12 inches


All but few of N.T.'s recent paintings seem to be expressed along abstract themes associated with island life.

Even when a painting is seemingly realistic, there is usually a conceptual element present, as in 'Loony' where the usual white coral lined walls, greenery and neatly swept sandy grounds are contradicted or maybe complemented by the presence of a white dangly figure.


One Oar Too Many, Painting by N T Hasen Didi, MaldivesOne Oar Too Many, oil on canvas, 21.5 x 17.5 inches


If all these elements in N.T.'s paintings are dreams, and if the dreams are a product of what we see and live with, then it is impossible not to think about all the things that artist's dreams are made of.

It feels unmannerly not to wonder about the pink rose plant, with its thorny stems and delicate leaves, appearing elegantly, every now and then in N.T.'s paintings (as in the painting titled 'Rose Plant')

It can be assumed that these roses were mere symbols inspired from the artist's love of gardening.

On the other hand, it can be supposed that the colour changing, persistent roses have left an indelible mark on the artist's creativity, just as the 'Vine has struck a Fibre' in Omar Khayyam's writings.

Either way, these are dreams drawn by the artist's hands.

And again according to N.T., the language expressed with these hands is sometimes bold and clear, sometimes subtle and ambiguous, but never the same as a practical competent person's hands.


The Rose Plant, painting by N T Hasen Didi, MaldivesThe Rose Plant, oil on canvas, 17 x 13.5 inches


Loony, by N T Hasen Didi, MaldivesLoony, oil on canvas, 21.5 x 15.5 inches


One Dream, painting by N T Hasen Didi, MaldivesOne Dream, oil on canvas, 17.5 x 13.5 inches


Long Ago, painting by N T Hasen Didi, MaldivesLong Ago, oil on canvas, 27.7 x 19 inches


My House, painting by N T Hasen Didi, MaldivesMy House, watercolour on paper, 16.5 x 13 inches


It takes an imaginative artist to identify living art in front of them, art that comes in the form of normal unimaginative activities.

It takes an artist like NT to capture these vivid images somewhere along his travels three decades ago, process it as art, and then exhibit it as a story that needs to be told.


The Party, painting by N T Hasen Didi, MaldivesThe Party, oil on canvas, 34 x 21 inches


The Eloquent Hands tells a story that is almost forgotten.

And the Painting Dreams tells of stories that still keep on weaving as long as dreams are dreamt.


The Other House, painting by N T Hasen Didi, MaldivesThe Other House, oil on canvas, 23 x 22 inches


N.T. brings with him works from an era of different attitudes.

His attitude to art is developed over eighty-five years of experience, knowledge, artistic inquiry and expression.

His paintings are impulsive in nature.

His photography is conceptual in design.

These impulses and concepts are built on ideas that can still be considered novel in the spaces of Maldivian art.


Catalogue credit page, N T Hasen Didi exhibition, Maldives






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