Finding your niche | Giola Cassar

Ahead of her upcoming exhibition, ‘I Know I Don’t’, young artist Giola Cassar speaks to us about her favourite theme of identity, and the state of Maltese art today. 

Giola Cassar: “The major challenge remains one of feasibility and viability”
Giola Cassar: “The major challenge remains one of feasibility and viability”
Giola Cassar, 'Someone I knew'
Giola Cassar, 'Someone I knew'

What have been some of your key preoccupations as an artist, and how would you say they’ve developed over the years?

Over the past four years, my main aim has been to try and evolve through the artistic work I engage in, and hence implicitly grow as an artist. Usually I try and approach each new project with a clean slate and an open mind. My main work aims to explore the themes of identity and memory, continually questioning who we are both to ourselves and to others. In the process I employ the human figure per se, as well as objects, as a representation of these concerns.

How would you describe your artistic training over the years, formal or otherwise? Would you say you learnt the most important things to you in schools/institutions, or would you say it’s the other way round? 

From a young age I’ve always been involved in different forms of art, formally and informally, however I started formal training in the medium of photography four years ago. Following the attainment of a Higher National Diploma in Malta at MCAST, I applied to further my studies by reading for a BA in Photography (Contemporary Practice) at the University of the Creative Arts in Kent, in the UK.

I found the adventure rather rewarding both from an intellectual and also from a personal dimension and opted to pursue a post-graduate degree in Photography at the University of Brighton. Currently I am halfway through my Masters and I am enjoying living in Brighton considerably.

Studying full time has enabled me to focus my full attention and energy on my artistic work. The institutions have provided me with the means to explore my visual practice further, while providing the possibility to discuss my work with established artists and fellow colleagues.

While the formal training is important, as the basis of each great photo is using the right technique, I strongly believe that most of my artistic work has developed by researching points of interest and discussing ideas in an informal manner with other artists and mentors that have helped me develop my skills.

‘Identity’ appears to be a key theme for ‘I Know I Don’t’. This is a rich and broad theme: how did you set about making it ‘manageable’, and ‘your own’? 

A recurring question when initiating a new body of work is the simple yet highly complex question: ‘What makes us who we are?’, a question that has been tackled by leading academics, yet remains vast and ambiguous. Following a thorough visual and literary research about identity, I decided to try and explore two different routes that have impacted and formed who I am today.

‘Portrayal’ deals with visual identity and the ways in which it is both fluid and fixed, and is constantly reasserted in different ways. While ‘Someone I knew’ seeks to examine the manner that relationships and memories we create over time, become a core factor of this complex formula, which establishes a substantial part of who we are. 

Could you tell us a bit about the kind of media you’ve employed to create the works forming part of this exhibition? What can we expect to see when it's unveiled?

The exhibition primarily explores the themes through the medium of photography, ranging from the highly detailed images to an instant image. As a means to represent each body of work in its best way, every detail of how each image is exhibited is taken into consideration, with the help of Alexandra Pace, the exhibition’s curator.

How would you describe the arts scene in Malta? What would you change about it, if you could? 

I believe that the arts scene in Malta has evolved over the last couple of years. Admittedly, it feels like horizons are getting broader for those involved in the arts, as gradually opportunities open up, as the sector gains more importance.

There is still room for it to grow since this is something that is continuously evolving, however I believe that such opportunities like the one that I was granted thanks to Agenzija Zghazagh which has helped me to set up this exhibition through the ‘Divergent Thinkers’ competition, gives young artists like myself a voice and a space at a national level.

Moreover, since a larger number of students are furthering their studies in the arts, this has helped the Maltese arts scene to aim higher and to augment the degree of professionalism within the sector. The major challenge remains one of feasibility and viability in that, in view of the fact that the sector is still evolving, employment possibilities are restricted. This is not just a challenge for Maltese artists, but is something which our counterparts in other European countries are also facing.

One has to keep in mind that opting for an artistic career requires the individual to find their own niche, which is not necessary if one were to venture into more traditional professions. However, this is what makes working in the arts a challenging and rewarding experience.  

I Know I Don’t will be on display at the Upper Galleries of St James Cavalier, Valletta from April 10 to May 3. For more information log on to