Unchaining the sculptural Prometheus

Ahead of a conference aiming to highlight and celebrate the works of Maltese sculptor Josef Kalleya – also within the remit of a discussion of Rodin – Mdina Biennale artistic director and lecturer in History of Art, Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci, speaks to us about the need to look at Kalleya’s works within a global artistic context

Josef Kalleya, Study for City Gate, Valletta
Josef Kalleya, Study for City Gate, Valletta

Why was Rodin a starting point for this conference? 

Rodin was and still is a towering giant. He defined and determined the whole development of sculptural art throughout the 20th century. His radical effect on Brancusi, Bourdelle, Sciortino, Apap, Moore is inestimable and cannot be ‘mathematically’ gauged. Yet he retained a superb fundamental historical link, a direct one I might add, with previous masters, including with Michelangelo.

He enslaved all: he successfully ‘unchained’ Prometheus, challenged the skies and Hades.

At the same time, for quite different reasons, he provoked an anti-movement: a different philosophy of sculptural art, a different aesthetic which ushered a radical departure from his artistic monopoly. And here we find, amongst others, Kalleya.

What do you hope the Josef Kalleya dimension will bring to the discussion?

As a scholar studying and reading art, I have to analyse the Malta scene within an international context with all its integral complexities and contradictions. It is really tiring to see that Maltese scholarship on modern art is still anchored within a dangerous exclusive parameter. We have to study and analyse all without drawing restrictive lines.

The discussion at this conference will be juxtaposing several international artists who struggled with the genius strength of Rodin, particularly Medardo Rosso, Hans Josephsohn and others.

I am very sure that this is the first time that an international conference is being organised with a specific intent to discuss Malta’s role within the international art scene.

Do you hope that the conference will lead to an increased appreciation of his work within the wider context of sculpture?

I am sure that the conference would lead to an increased appreciation of Kalleya’s work. But not only. The conference is not a ‘vetrina’. It aims to see Kalleya within the vast European artistic context. We are seeing Kalleya as one of the various radical alternatives to the Rodinesque philosophy of art. The presence of the curator of the Musée Rodin at the conference will make it beautifully inciting. 

The conference will be accompanied by an exhibition of Kalleya’s sculptures and photomontages which will take place between December 15 and 30 at the University of Malta Valletta Campus. This will allow conference participants to interact with Kalleya’s works theoretically and visually.

What is the importance of this kind of event being held at the Mdina Biennale? 

This conference is being organised by the Department of History of Art (University of Malta). My objective was and is to bridge several parallel events so as to give a holistic image to such a happening.

Kalleya was, together with Carmelo Mangion and Antoine Camilleri, chosen to create an important historical link between the contemporary art exhibited at the Mdina Biennale (whose main partner is APS Bank) and Malta’s modern masters, who determined the direction of Maltese art history.

In such a manner, the link between the Mdina Biennale (which is an event which also falls within the parameters of the Department of History of Art Department) and this conference is an important and vital one. Another vital link is that with Valletta 2018. We have succeeded in including this international conference within the Valletta 2018 Strada Stretta artistic programme.

This makes all these events exciting from an academic perspective, but also for the fact that this method permits the participation of different kinds of audiences.


From Rodin to Kalleya

The conference, ‘Peripheral Alternatives to Rodin in Modern European Sculpture’, will be taking place on December 15.

This conference aims to bring together international scholars and researchers to discuss and debate the role sculpture was playing in the formulation of a new artistic language and to also analyse the various idiomatic alternatives to Rodin co-existing during the first decades of the 20th century and beyond. The French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) is widely considered as the forbearer of modern sculpture, whose pervasive influence proclaimed him as the authority of sculptural art.

The objective is to create a trans-cultural scholarly relationship between the work of European sculptors and other relevant artists. It endeavours to question and debate the artistic hegemonic relationship between Rodin and other sculptors. The conference is to further analyse the works of those pioneering sculptors who directed art towards original modes of representation within their respective socio-political situation and the international context.

Participants include Dr Sophie Biass-Fabiani (Musée Rodin, Paris), Dr Julia Kelly (Loughborough University), Professor Joseph Paul Cassar (University of Maryland University College), Dr Jon Wood (Henry Moore Institute, Leeds), Mr Ulrich Meinherz (Kesselhaus Josephsohn, St Gallen), Dr Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci (University of Malta) and Ms. Barbara Vujanović (Atelijer Meštrović, Zagreb).

For more information about the conference, log on to: https://www.um.edu.mt/events/parmes2015