Tenth time lucky | George Abdilla

Young photographer George Abdilla speaks to us about the collective exhibition ‘Axra’, where he will be exhibiting alongside his colleagues from the Digital Arts MFA at the University of Malta

Work by George Abdilla
Work by George Abdilla

What kind of artistic milieu is the Digital Arts MFA yielding so far?

This is the third intake to follow the Master in Fine Arts in Digital Arts at the University of Malta, within the Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences. Led by Dr Vince Briffa, we were a group of around 14 at the start but along the way some dropped up and we ended up as ten members, from which the term ‘Axra’ emerged. 

All ten of us come from diverse backgrounds, and have our own experiences of life.  Within the group there are sculptors, photographers, digital game developers, painters, and mixed media artists. 

What is interesting about this group is that there is a span of nearly four decades, so together we’ve learnt to understand each other’s generational baggage.

What is the raison d'être of the evocatively-titled ‘Axra’ exhibition, and what led you to theme the showcase on these lines?

‘Axra’ stems out of the Maltese word għaxra meaning the number 10.  Since we are a group of 10, we decided to go for simplicity and used the phonetic sound of the word. Axra happens to have the X within it – and X is the Roman numeral of 10.  This, we felt, reinforced our identity and hence we made more emphasis on the X by making it stand out more from the rest of the words coloring it red. To complete the overall message, the number 10 symbolises not only the 10 individuals making the group but as well, the ten ideas – the ten projects presented by the group. 

Our approach to this collective exhibition was one based on simplicity. We wanted our works to stand out without the frills which sometimes accompany certain works.  We are, yes, 10 individual artists, but during these past 18 months, we became one group, and together we put up this collective exhibition reflecting our research and work.

Are there any common elements to the group of participating artists?

Although each and every one of us worked on his and her project individually, we helped each other in our research, sometimes discussing a work, an idea, sometimes combining our thoughts.

This exhibition is a group effort – reflecting the fact that if two individuals get together and exchange a Euro coin between them, at the end of the day, they will still have a Euro coin in hand, but when we 10 persons came together, and we each shared an idea, at the end of the day, each one of us had 10 different ideas at hand. 

Notwithstanding that each one of us worked on his or her own project, a number of us have reflected on common concepts such as those of Memory, Time and Death. Yet each one of us treated the subject in totally different ways, and even  though five of us are primarily working through the medium of photography, we produced totally different research and accompanying works.

What brought you all together, aesthetically and conceptually speaking?

The cement bonding us is probably the philosophy-based lectures we had together.  We studied and discussed some difficult texts which we used to form our research proposals, and eventually our works.

What will your particular contribution to this exhibition be?

Each of us has a set space – a ‘room’ – to work in, and we had to produce an art piece related to what we researched. In my case, my research evolved around the medium I use – that is photography, and I delved into the why’s and how’s of photography. My work centered around Death, the memory aspect of the photograph, and the elements of time and deterioration. To produce my work, I used the very early printing processes used in photography. 

The digital step in all my works is ironically the creation of the physical large negative needed for the contact printing process. I would not have been able to do these works had digital scanning and printing not been about. I feel my work raises and addresses questions of authenticity. It addresses the notion of our memory, as it degrades over time – as we grow old.  The same happens to my works, which as they age will deteriorate.  A number of my works depict my grandmother, who passed away 16 years ago. Yet, looking at them, one feels an affinity, as if the person was there. 

How would you describe the Maltese artistic scene? What would you change about it?

The Maltese scene, from a photographer’s point of view, is one which is still evolving and accepting photography. Not all photographs are art, but some are excellent works. Maltese photographers are much more respected overseas rather than here on the rock, where many people feel that the run of the mill water/poster or oil painting of a Madonna, or some representation of some village statute, or the Maltese fishing boats is of a higher artistic value than that produced through photography. What I would like to change is this forma mentis of people – what I wish to see is more open-minded people capable of dissecting what is in front of them, and forming their own opinion, rather than echoing what the oracle says…

What’s next for you?

I plan to work on a number of projects over the coming months: one in particular was going to be my research proposal. I want to bring to the front and to public’s attention the Maltese blind people, their life, and world. 

This Master’s degree provided me the tools to research, use my art to highlight social, cultural and other issues, things I have an opinion on and through my art I can make a statement on. This exhibition is not the end of a long journey, but the beginning of a new chapter in my life. 

Axra will remain on display at the Upper Galleries, St James Cavalier, Valletta until July 1

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