Plight: Exploring the relationship between activism and art

LAURA CALLEJA speaks with artist Mariah Borg regarding her latest exhibition, Plight, a fusion of hand-painted paintings and modern animating techniques. Borg explores the blurred lines between art and activism as she searches for peace and acceptance. Plight is on until 22 December at Rinaxximent Tattoo Parlour in Mosta

By Mariah Borg
By Mariah Borg

Your latest exhibition, Plight, is a very personal project. Can you explain the inspiration behind it?

The idea of “Plight” came to life after I was one of the five people who was awarded an Artivisti grant, a proposal by the Arts Council and Aġenzija Żgħażagħ. Artivisti is a combination of art and activism, which are topics I have always been interested in. In the interim of my acceptance, I started going to VSM for therapy regarding the prolonged sexual abuse I endured. Part of the therapy session included writing a list of what I remembered from the abuse. After reading the list, my memories became more real, and to comfort myself, I started to paint. I realized that painting allowed me to be in control. Besides “Plight” becoming a cathartic experience for me, my project was made to provide a safe non-verbal medium for the visualizers.

What do you hope to achieve through the exhibition? 

“Plight” was intended to be an artistic distraction from the negative and intrusive thought patterns accompanying the experience while redirecting the mind to the innate senses. I aimed to have a connecting interaction where the moving pictures almost lured the visualizers in. I wanted to focus on creating a sense of belonging, dismaying the loneliness that comes with sexual abuse. What I am hoping to achieve is for people to have a safe space to relate to, to be able to say, "Me too", and to not feel alone. 

Mariah Borg
Mariah Borg

I know that for you, this exhibition was very cathartic. Can you explain to us what you learned through this creative process? 

I dedicated a year to this project, and it was a year of learning during the creative process and after as well. This process served as a roadmap for me, as it was an attempt to get in touch with my memories of my experience with prolonged sexual abuse. However traumatic the memories may have been for me, I reclaimed the memories into artworks in motion. I learned how to feel a little more in control and how art is an essential part of our lives that can be used as a tool for self-discovery and reinterpretation. I now have a visual insight into what I have experienced, and hopefully will visually relate to other people's experiences. Throughout this year, I have also worked as a gallerist, where I had conversations about topics related to sexual abuse, and I came to realize how we are not alone, as many people have unfortunately endured it. 

Did anything surprise you during the process? 

I was surprised by how, even during the making of this project, I started having conversations with people who opened up to me about their experiences. Their reaction after telling them that I was painting a motion picture animation on this topic was quite beautiful to me, as they somehow felt understood. I realized that sexual abuse is a lonely thing to go through. However, we are not alone. There is a lot of shame surrounding the subject matter; however, in providing a safe space filled with art, performance and poetry, people tend to be more comfortable to break their silence and speak up against acts of violence. 

By Mariah Borg
By Mariah Borg

Do you have a favourite piece from the exhibition or one that people who are visiting should look out for?

I do not particularly have a favourite piece; however, I would say the ending was most alluring for me. At the end of the animation, I fall into the arms of my abuser. While his arms are latched on to me, I start to take steps forward. His arms remain holding on to me tightly, as he needs me. As I move further away, he is being dragged along. This shows two aspects; one aspect presents the idea that abusers need another person for their own satisfaction. The other aspect is that he becomes my shadow. I cannot escape my past, but I choose to continue moving forward. 

What can the audience expect when they visit Plight?

The audience will view the visual storyline of “Plight”. The exhibition's shape and form were utilized for the placement of the paintings, as the paintings were curated to be in chronological order toward the motion picture animation. As one follows the paintings, the paintings direct you to the final animation. The sensory art of motion pictures includes the element of sound. This was an additional layer of sensory aural depth and immersion;  allowing the audience to engage with the artwork and storyline on a deeper level. At the end of the opening, we will be having conversations with the public. Whoever would like to open up about their experiences or talk about the topic of sexual abuse, in general, is free to do so in a safe space that is not the traditional therapeutic setting. On day two of Plight, there will be a performance called TRUX, the language of the deaf, which will be performed by D-Shows, and poetry readings by Ghaqda tal-Malti. The performance and poetry are further artistic mediums that talk about sexual abuse through a different lens. During the seven days of Plight, flyers are made available to present the possibilities of where to seek help in case anyone needs to. Since this project came to life after my journey with VSM, I will be donating €50 from anyone who purchases a painting so that VSM can continue to provide its services to those in need.