The naked truth? | Darren Tanti

Darren Tanti’s striking exhibition of paintings, currently on show at St James Cavalier, explores the clash between religion and contemporary culture.

Tanti’s paintings mash together the sacred and profane to form a hyperreal, satirical depiction of contemporary Maltese society.
Tanti’s paintings mash together the sacred and profane to form a hyperreal, satirical depiction of contemporary Maltese society.

A striking exhibition is currently on display at the lower galleries of St James Cavalier in Valletta.

Darren Tanti's Omen, while perhaps not entirely subtle in its approach, nonetheless regales visitors with a brash, clearly provocative look at contemporary culture, religion and gender roles - often mashing the past with the present.

Tanti's figurative paintings are technically accomplished and thematically loaded. The subjects are rendered in porcelain-like hyperrealism - there's an uncanny combination of photographic accuracy and pop-art 'glossiness' - and though they are very much figures from a contemporary world, Tanti uses them to recall traditional or religious iconography.

A man in ripped up denim shorts assumes the Christ's pose - he is wearing a Muslim turban and has Jewish plaits, and they're a three-pin electrical socket by his feet. He is flanked by a male 'angel' and a rather buxom female figure, naked except for her fashionable sunglasses and hat combo, with a clothesline of brand items and shopping bags hanging behind her.

This practically life-size triptych is the centrepiece of the exhibition, but Omen is full of such delightfully paradoxical plays on contemporary culture and tradition.

At just 24 years old, Tanti admits to being partial to a bit of provocation, though he doesn't see the exhibition as being purely shock value. Rather, he sees his approach as being "seductive".

"A provocation is an 'explicit' act that seeks for a reaction, for a confrontation. But when it is done in a subtle, delicate way then it becomes quite seductive. The uncertainty between the contradictory cues received by the viewer vis-à-vis the formal content of the paintings and the narrative behind them raise questions..."

Darren Tanti

Darren Tanti

These questions are bound up to Tanti's own perspective on religion.

"I have a strange relationship with faith and religion and the by product of such relationship is the odd/natural marriage between religious iconography and my everyday life experience of things. It happens that Malta is a fortress of Catholicism and it lends itself perfectly for dissection. I really find the contradictions between the Catholic way of life that we ought to follow (it is written in the Constitution after all!) and the actual way of life we Maltese (and for that matter most of the world) aspire to quite intriguing.

"My work tackles different aspects of these contradictions amongst other personal issues and concerns."

It's not too big a stretch to say that the exhibition also suggests newfangled forms of 'religious' worship, in the shape of consumer society. Unfortunately it appears that women have fallen foul of these materialistic traps more then men, at least according to the way they're depicted by Tanti.

But though it may seem misogynistic at first glance, Tanti suggests that popular culture is what's to blame for the way women are presented - as either gossips, manipulators or superficial, fashion-obsessed ciphers.

"Advertisement is all around us and we are constantly bombarded with images/messages that urge us to consume. Unfortunately, one must recognize that most of the times the weapon of choice for this mission is the woman. I do not want to over-generalise but I think that the trend is to use the female body as a marketing tool. Gossip? You simply have to switch on the TV and you'll see all sorts of shows that depict the woman as the stereotypical gossip girl. Manipulative? What about Delilah, Salome, Judith and Eve? Superficiality is all about the appearances and looks; doesn't that fit one of the present fashionista's requirements?"

Omen will be showing at the Lower Galleries of St James Cavalier, Valletta until June 17. More information on Darren Tanti's website.