When it’s holy and when it isn’t | Danilo Arata

TEODOR RELJIC speaks to Italian photographer Danilo Arata about his current exhibition, Sacred and Profane

Mother Nature by Danilo Arata
Mother Nature by Danilo Arata

Could you tell us a little bit about your background as a photographer? When did you first start taking pictures, and when did you realise that this is something you wanted to take more seriously?

Photography was a chance find which resulted in love at first sight. I was a teenager when I found a forgotten blue bag behind an infrequently used door. Inside there was a Fuji STX-2 camera with a couple of lenses and a few expired Ilford 35mm black and white films. My father had bought them many years before and I was caught onto with great interest. I cleaned it, got it working again and that was the start of looking at life through a camera lens.

I eventually attended photography courses held by an outstanding teacher at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome, Italy. While I became a pilot by profession, a camera is always accompanying me in my pilot case among all the aircraft manuals, with me in my travels and capturing moments which otherwise cannot be shared with others.

How did your position as a pilot influence the direction of this project?

Working as a pilot gives me the unique chance to have encounters around the globe with many different people, all with a story to tell. Being a pilot gives me the opportunity to see, interact with and visually capture the cultural diversities and perspectives around the world.

I have always been fascinated by how similar and yet different societies are and witness how different minute daily actions can be perceived as sacred or otherwise, according to different societies and their people.

With this project, I have tried to highlight the contrasts as to how children are being brought up, how love is seen, and how adulthood and life are rougher to some than to others. Most especially how important it is to respect everybody’s different approach to life.

Why was the subject of sacredness and profanity the main strand to emerge from this project?

One has no choice in where one gets born, and yet the norms of one’s society create certain influences and require a certain attitude to fit in and to survive. Which attitudes may be then seen as either sacred or profane by other societies altogether.

My aim within the ‘Sacred and Profane’ project is to capture and appreciate people’s humanity in their diversity as prescribed by their respective societies. The different perceptions of sacred and profane allow us to think on how and why different societies think and act in a particular way, and therefore, teaching us respect through a better understanding of diverse cultural backgrounds.

The project asks the viewers, to reflect on who might be acting right or wrong, and where would one draw the line of good and bad, of sacred and profane. The aimed answer is truly that of understanding towards the context of the place and their history. Which results in appreciating that despite certain difficult images, empathy towards the subjects and their context would be the main recurring emotion.

What do you make of the local visual arts scene?

The local visual art scene is growing and changing continuously. It can be seen that more opportunities are being created for both local and foreign artists to collaborate and exhibit their work in Malta. These opportunities create a vibrant art scene with a lot of talent, which promises to keep growing further and see Malta becoming an integral part of the European art scene.

What’s next for you?

After my previous exhibition ‘A World of Human Shadows’ and my ongoing exhibition ‘Sacred and Profane’, both of which are reportage projects on a global scale, I am planning on working on something closer to home. I have relocated and I have been based in Malta for the past five years, and so I plan to dedicate my next project to Malta.


Sacred and Profane is currently on display at the Malta Society of Arts, Palazzo De La Salle, 219 Republic Street, Valletta, Malta until May 3. The exhibition is curated by  Marisabelle Grech