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The only planet we call home | David Grima

Artist David Grima’s exhibition Arbanġ includes photographs, radiographic imaging and thread

Teodor Reljic
27 June 2017, 7:30am
David Grima (Photo: Edward Abela)
David Grima (Photo: Edward Abela)
What does ‘Arbang’ mean, and how does this reflect on the concept of the exhibition? 

Arbanġ, from arbor, Latin for ‘tree’, and the Greek word for ‘vessel’, angeîon. The latter was adopted by the English language as the prefix angio-, meaning ‘relating to a vessel’. The works are especially influenced by the Maltese environment, and lack of it, hence the ‘ġ’. The idea for the project builds on a personal fascination with trees and their various forms, and the title reflects this in a way, as trees can serve as a vessel for comprehension and understanding of the hidden synergy between all that is. We are part of this intricate interconnected web, that is, living on one solitary planet. One with all. Irrespective of whether we choose to ignore it or not. 

Every order, every struggle, every spoil in a closed system leads to pressures onto the doer; tension, struggle, injury, and eventual destruction. We are living in troubling times, now more than ever. We are choosing to disregard the consequences to our choices both on the physical and chemical space around us, the environment and other living organisms. In the words of Sagan, “Earth is the only home we’ve ever known”. 

And the only planet we’ll call home for a long time. It is imperative to live more placidly, not only with one another, and with other lifeforms, but also with the Earth. We need to move towards implementing environmental safeguards in our Law. We’ve made tons of progress with regards to human rights and animal rights, but not so with earth rights. I guess this speaks a lot about the human condition, our shortsightedness and our inability to step outside our comfort zones to bring about change.

Arbang is mixed-media exhibition of works by David Grima, incorporating photographs, radiographic imaging and thread
Arbang is mixed-media exhibition of works by David Grima, incorporating photographs, radiographic imaging and thread
What was the main starting point for the pieces that make up Arbang and at what point did you find that there was an interconnection between them? 

It all started almost two years ago during an intense week on a vascular surgery attachment, which got the ball rolling. There wasn’t a specific point per se, but rather a gradual process throughout the years. I’m reading a degree in medicine, so naturally I have always been exposed to a scientific background. At the same time, I’ve been taking photography seriously for almost 10 years, and it was a sort of natural way forward to bridge the two. I spend a lot of time outdoors and this invariably targets my thinking and influences. As such the works reflect this interconnection in nature, both animate and inanimate, through the use of repeating motifs and patterns.

How would you say ‘Arbang’ builds upon your previous work? 

In Linji Sfuzi, the body of work was divided into two main bodies, making use of street photography as well as conceptual. It was about observing characters in a city and the inter-related relationships which populate daily life: the merchant, the resident, the developer, the shopper, the commuter. Arbanġ is essentially the progression of these observations, extended towards the natural world, exploring the synergy between the animate and inanimate in nature’s repeating self-similarity. Building upon recent work with thread and photography, the former adds another physical dimension to the image. Thread changes the interaction with the pieces, the thread is seen as being not static, but rather dependent on the viewer’s position in space, and can be moved around (to the eye), essentially decomposing and recomposing the image.

Arbang is mixed-media exhibition of works by David Grima, incorporating photographs, radiographic imaging and thread
Arbang is mixed-media exhibition of works by David Grima, incorporating photographs, radiographic imaging and thread
There is a distinctly ecological feel to the mission statement behind Arbang. Was this always part of your approach, and what motivated you to pursue it? 

Indeed, I was motivated by this from the outset. I wanted to explore the synergy in the observable and the hidden through photography. We have to manipulate and discard our superiority complex: that we humans are a separate entity from the rest of the world in the sense that we are somewhat ‘higher’ beings... should we want our descendants to have a planet to call home. 

We are increasingly going about our lives and decisions with utter disregard for the natural world in which we live in, and hence therefore shy away from responsibilities with regards to the environment. The revival of the electric car has been around for half a century, but we are nowhere near the end of petrol and diesal cars. 

We’ve known about the immense physical and mental health benefits of having untouched green habitats and accessible nature parks for decades, but we’re still ‘developing’ virgin lands at an ever increasing rate. These are but a couple of examples of our failures as humans at finding harmonious equilibrium between development (in the grander sense) and the repercussions on the natural world.

How would you describe your collaboration with Clifford Jo Zahra, and how do his writings strengthen the exhibition’s remit? 

I had first worked with Clifford on Linji Sfuzi, along with Ancel Cefai. I think I would describe it as a friendship forged in challenging one another, always striving to improve. 

Clifford’s two contributions to the exhibition help solidify and ground the premise of the project. Language and images appeal to differing parts of the brain and therefore excite neurons in unique areas, which in turn leads to formation of new synapses, thoughts and ideas. Associations and patterns are the order of the day in the natural world. Clifford has a unique way of describing the world around us in a figurative manner and provides a fresh insight which accompanies and elevates the underlying message of the works. 

Arbang is mixed-media exhibition of works by David Grima, incorporating photographs, radiographic imaging and thread
Arbang is mixed-media exhibition of works by David Grima, incorporating photographs, radiographic imaging and thread
What do you make of the local visual arts scene? What would you change about it? 

Million dollar question. I think it’s quite a solid scene, brimming with potential, albeit our tiny shores. Moreover, it’s great to see the number of visual arts festivals and activities being given more importance (minus the Sliema Arts Festival gaffe). It’s very reassuring to see a lot of young upcoming artists establishing themselves both locally and overseas, particularly the return to and success of the Malta Pavilion at the Biennale di Venezia. I think more creatives should have the courage to exhibit their work and foster discussion between different circles and network across the board. 

What’s next for you?

Tea and coffee.

Arbang will remain on display at Spazju Kreattiv at St James Cavalier, Valletta until August 13. The exhibition is supported by Arts Council Malta – Malta Arts Fund and is part of the Spazju Kreattiv season programme

Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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