The return of the Fine Arts in Malta

Lorraine Lewis is heartened by the varied selection of new works presented by the students of the Fine Arts postgraduate course at the University of Malta  

7 October 2016, 8:53am
Modern Irregular Argonauts by Clint Calleja
Modern Irregular Argonauts by Clint Calleja
Between September 16 and 25, students from the pioneering Fine Arts postgraduate course at University of Malta, exhibited their final projects at Splendid on Strait Street, Valletta. 

The results were a clear reflection of the academic quality of the long-awaited course, which opened for the first time in October 2014 and offered students the possibility to develop their ideas into fine works of art with subjects that have been well-researched and backed up by a solid understanding of theory and technical skill. 

Diaphanous by Leanne Lewis
Diaphanous by Leanne Lewis
The students depicted subjects of individual or collective importance, covering a number of diverse themes ranging from current affairs and social crises to philosophy, awareness, culture, science, and political issues. All exhibits shared a common conceptual trait – an experimental exploration of ‘the humane’ balanced with a sense of extreme realities. 

Noel Attard tackled some of the cultural tensions inherent in society with a public sculpture, entitled ‘It-Tarań°’, installed at Valletta’s city gate. The work, produced in steel and concrete, reflects a distinct split in cultural views, which create unfortunate barriers between certain groups in Malta. The installation is reminiscent of a dancing figure in motion, capturing the clash and flow of different opinions, stemming from the same roots yet struggling for both individuality and cultural protection.   

It-Tarag by Noel Attard
It-Tarag by Noel Attard
Clint Calleja’s piece, ‘Modern Irregular Argonauts’, comprised a wooden vessel engraved with Maltese names representing the fate of so many migrants. The question of migration is a controversial issue worldwide which, although an integral part of Maltese history, many refuse to accept. The artist chose to display his work at the Addolorata cemetery, in order to highlight the sense of poignancy while providing those lost with a burial of sorts – one never received after embarking on a dangerous journey in search of a better life. 

Leanne Lewis’s work, ‘Diaphanous’, involved a series of four monotype illustrations printed on hanging pieces of chiffon and captured the relentless destruction of trees in Malta. Each print becomes progressively lighter with every sheet in order to emphasise the gradual disappearance of trees across the island. This incredibly unfortunate situation is one which not only threatens humankind’s immediate wellbeing, but also heralds the destruction of the ecosystem. The work touched on a number of theories and perspectives, highlighting the right to live in healthy environment, as well as the importance of conservation and the possibility of arriving at a stage where trees are simply a part of the imagination. The use of translucent chiffon reflected the delicate veil that separates the possibility and reality of living in urban spaces completely detached from nature, ultimately separating humans from nature and themselves.  

In his piece entitled ‘Appear Missing’, Jeremy Amaira produced a set of twelve charcoal drawings partially covered with layers of transparent paper to highlight parts of the decomposed figures. The two key concepts in Amaira’s work are deformation and the interplay between presence and absence of the decomposed bodies of those lost at war and remembered in memorials.

Rebirth by Matthew Farrugia
Rebirth by Matthew Farrugia
Matthew Farrugia’s ‘Rebirth’ was based on science intertwined with philosophy. To form the ‘pure work’ of bronze and stone abstract sculpture, the artist used energy, wind, water, fire, and earth. Farrugia experimented with the tangible and the spiritual based on the study of alchemy, which explored the supposed links between the elements and spirituality. The overall result was an interesting, dichotomous blend of the visible and invisible.  

Produced using a range of materials, these unique projects signal a major step forward in the revival of fine art in Malta, helping to raise the level of quality in the contemporary arts scene that, for a time, struggled to progress at a healthy pace. 

This course promises to act as an essential body for establishing and maintaining the high standards of the Fine Arts in Malta. The quality achieved at this exhibition, together with the participation of external examiner Prof. Eliza Bonham Carter (Royal Academy of Arts, London), serve as welcome proof of the growing strength of the arts in Malta. Under the guidance of Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci, some of Malta’s most artistic minds seem set to produce more high-quality work and progress with every course. This exhibition was thoroughly enjoyed by art-lovers and the general public alike, and serves as an ideal way to get in touch with nascent artists while participating in a lively local arts scene. 

The exhibition at Splendid on Strait Street, Valletta, was open until September 25, however ‘Modern Irregular Argonauts’ will be on display at the Addolorata Cemetery,  between 07:00 and 16:30, until the end of October. ‘It-Tarań°’ will also be at the entrance to the Valletta City Gate until the end of October.