Imagine an open loft with large white desks, big computer screens, and a start-up atmosphere. This is not in London, New York or Berlin, but on the seventh floor of an office building in the center of Malé. Amid the noise of construction sites and the humming of the air conditioner, the staff of the full-service agency Zebra Cross creates concepts for magazines, such as “Destination Maldives,” corporate identities, and advertising campaigns, organizes events and photo shoots, or produces industry movies. In addition to international corporations such as Coca-Cola, their client list includes many of domestic clients, such as the Maldives Post, Maldivian Airlines, the country’s Red Cross, and the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

We are interested in getting a good look into the daily life of this country. A country that includes over than 1,200 islands, spread out between 1,200 miles from north to south in the Indian Ocean. How do creative people work in a country with a population of just over 450,000 people and with the smallest capital in the world, were over 100,000 of Maldivians live. What are their visions, what inspires them, how do they see their environment? We are here to meet with Ibrahim Arafath, the Creative Director. His professional career began at young age with simple drawings. “As a small child, I was often bored. In Malé there was not that much to do for children. So what was I supposed to do? I decided to escape into my own private world of fantasy and started to draw comics,” Arafath says. His father helped him. He opened the door for him by showing him how to look at the world from a different angle. He showed him how to do a simple perspective by drawing a sailboat flat and in 3-D and gave him the foundation for his studies in graphic design later.

As Creative Director, Arafath rarely draws anymore, but mentors the next generation of talent that can make him swoon when he talks about their skills, ideas, and presentations. “Thanks to the Internet, the world is so well connected nowadays that even a small island-state like the Maldives can have an international exchange of ideas with like-minded people,” he says. He would like to see more international schools in the Maldives to make the current virtual exchange into an exchange that can happen in real life.  “I think some islands are large enough to make room for international universities.  That would be something that could really work.” Maybe one day his wish will be heard and realized. The idea that Maldivians could go to big cities or to the Alps as exchange students and vice versa, students from major cities or the mountains come to a small tropical island to study, sounds very tempting.

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