Global influences, local flavours

The third edition of the Divergent Thinkers collective exhibition – incorporating a group of young artists and curated by Raphael Vella – will take place at Blitz, St Lucy Street, Valletta from August 31 to September 27, using ‘RADICAL’ as its artistic prompt. This week, we speak to Umberto Buttigieg.

Umberto Buttigieg
Umberto Buttigieg

How would you describe the dynamic of Divergent Thinkers?

Divergent Thinkers entails quite an exciting process. Throughout the years, this event has gained in importance and complexity, involving quite a number of organizers and technicians, and soliciting the interest of an increasing number of emerging artists.

A lot of energy and effort is put in to bring about a high-quality exhibition which has become a key artistic event in our cultural calendar. It is also a golden opportunity for innovative young artists to interact amongst themselves and exhibit their work within a professional setting.

'Wash me with pure water', projection, 2014
'Wash me with pure water', projection, 2014

Would you say that your approach to art is primarily local, or international? How so?

I believe that the cultural, social and familiar environment, which an artist is born and brought up in, leaves an imprint on his/her character, artistic personality and output, either through adherence to it or through a reaction against it.

My main source of inspiration in my artistic practice stems from the cultural situation I grew up in and the human behaviours and attitudes attributed to such environments. I explore the collective perceptions and prejudices in a catholic, moralistic, close-knit Mediterranean society.

When it comes to my attraction towards earthly, organic raw qualities, the use of soil and water, the extensive use of Christian iconographic elements and Mediterranean cultural behaviours, the theatricality and solemnity of the works and the dramatic pairing of contrasts and opposites; these are very much reflective of the Maltese identity and aesthetics.

However, being in an age of social globalization and easy world-wide web access, the definition of local and international is becoming even more intermingled. My research, travel and studies abroad have definitely shaped my artistic approach.

What are some of the most important things you’ve learnt about art from school and other educational institutions? What are some of the most important things you’ve learnt at your own initiative?

Formal training in art practice was essential in equipping me with the technical knowledge and proficiency in my practice and helping me elevate the craft of creating.

Moreover, I was fortunate to have always had teachers who encouraged personal expression, creativity and experimentation. Through academic training I have discovered the essentiality of research, investigation and critical thinking in the process of transforming concepts and thoughts into tangible forms.

However, educational institutions are at times limited to syllabuses and clear cut programmes that could be restrictive to a creative mind. There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong method and there is no single way, approach or definition towards art.

It is the personal process of acquiring new knowledge, understanding, evaluating, experimenting and resolving that is mostly interesting and enlightening. What I have learned on my own initiative is that I have to be true to myself while executing the works; to express my ideas, opinions and the way I perceive life and the society; essentially, to convey something about me and the social and cultural environment I find myself in, in that particular moment.

How do you think participating in VIVA will help you as an artist?

Having Divergent Thinkers inserted within the larger framework of Viva not only gives more visibility to the artists but also encourages interaction with foreign curators, lecturers and participants, therefore attaching yet a greater value to this event. Moreover, it is an opportunity for artists to get professional feedback from international artists apart from studying the reaction of local visitors.

I must say that I’m a little anxious about this experience and how the public will react to my work. I haven’t exhibited in Malta for a while and this is the first project I am participating in after obtaining my Master’s degree in Fine Arts from the University of Brighton. My approach to art has since taken a new direction and my work in this exhibition (Wash me with pure water) is for me the unveiling of this transformation.

What’s next for you?

I hope to continue to develop my practice further, exploring different solutions and widening my horizons in terms of artistic theories, themes and materials.

Although I am constantly thinking, researching, reading and developing concepts for new works, I can be quite seasonal when it comes to the externalization process. I would like to achieve a point of consistency in my production and hence, my most immediate objective is to continue creating.

Moreover, after a two-year period working almost exclusively in video and performance art, I’m quite eager to readopt a more tangible and intimate approach in the art of creating. In fact, at the moment I am thinking of developing a collection of small-scale works on paper which are more introspective and confessional in nature.

I am also planning to be more proactive in terms of pursuing international opportunities and perhaps further my academic studies in this field.

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