‘Malta’s role as Mediterranean’s cultural centre’ picked for Venice Biennale

Controversial decision to appoint new committee to ‘unanimously’ select Malta representative

Maleth / Haven / Port - Heterotopias of Evocation is the title of the selected curatorial project that will represent Malta at the next Biennale di Venezia in 2019.

The winning team is composed of Dr Hesperia Iliadou Suppiej (lead curator), Vince Briffa (artist), Klitsa Antoniou (artist), Trevor Borg (artist) and Matthew Joseph Casha (architect/designer). The production management team is composed of Stephen Ciantar and George Lazoglou.

The Arts Council said the Malta Pavillion would offer a platform through which “Maltese contemporary artistic practices understood within the broadest sense of the term can be exposed, contextualised and presented to an international audience.”

Setting Malta – Maleth – at the centre of its theme, the project focuses on the role of the island as cultural centre of the Mediterranean Sea, both in history and in current times. The project invites the audience to reflect on their own lifetime journey of self-discovery, their own search for a personal Haven/Port. “Drawing on the tri-fold of history/archaeology, myth/tradition and vision/expectation, the exhibit aims to create within the space of the Malta National Pavilion a topos/locus of artistic conversation for the whole of the Mediterranean Sea,” the Arts Council said in a statement.

Maleth / Haven / Port - Heterotopias of Evocation is the title of the selected curatorial project that will represent Malta at the next Biennale di Venezia in 2019
Maleth / Haven / Port - Heterotopias of Evocation is the title of the selected curatorial project that will represent Malta at the next Biennale di Venezia in 2019

“Creating a space within a space, Evoking Heterotopias invites the audience to participate in an intuitive dialogue with the artworks which are organically placed within the built shell of the Venetian Arsenale. As vessels/islands within a sea, artworks come together to create a unique experience for the visitor, who is asked to traverse the exhibition space in a voyage of self-discovery that takes place in a suggestive fictitious space of controlled light and sound,” the Council said.

Malta returned to La Biennale di Venezia in 2017 after a 17-year absence. Prior to that, it had participated with a special exhibition of Maltese Artists in 1958 and a National Pavilion in 1999.

Controversy on selection of Biennale project

The Arts Council has been embroiled in controversy over the way it picked the winning project for Venice.

The Council issued an international call for the engagement of a curatorial team to curate the Malta Pavilion, and then entered into a “negotiated procedure” with 11 teams, who pitched their idea to the Council jury.

The jury chaired by Arts Council chair Albert Marshall, was made up of Sebastian Cichoki (Curator of the Polish Pavilion at the 2007 and 2010 Venice Biennale), Norbert Attard, director of the Valletta Contemporary Art gallery who represented Malta at the 1999 Venice Biennale, London designer Francis Sultana, a board member of the Malta International Contemporary Arts Space, and Heritage Malta vice-chairman Anthony Scicluna.

“In the course of lengthy discussions, opinions differed as to which proposal should represent Malta at Biennale di Venezia in 2019 and the situation resulted in a stalemate. In order to resolve this situation, a new board was set up to give a fresh outlook on the matter and to further evaluate the top three ranking proposals,” Albert Marshall said in a statement by the Arts Council.

The top three offers were allowed to further discuss their proposals to a new evaluation board during a final evaluation meeting on 6 August.

“These board members were selected on the basis of their academic and artistic track records as well as their knowledge and experience of government public procurement procedures,” Marshall said.

They were Spazju Kreatti director Dr Toni Sant, Malta International Arts Festival director Dr Michelle Cachia Castelletti, Palazzo Falzon curator Caroline Tonna, and Teatru Manoel artistic director Kenneth Zammit Tabona. The committee was chaired by Arts Council corporate services diredctor Etienne Bonello.

“The evaluation board unanimously agreed that Maleth / Haven / Port - Heterotopias of Evocation is the best project to represent Malta at the Venice Biennale in 2019,” the Council said, citing its strong international track record, and previous experience of La Biennale di Venezia.

“The proposal displays a high level of artistic excellence together with administrative, technical, curatorial and managerial knowledge. The budget is realistic and reasonable and it is the best value-for-money project; the other two top-ranking projects exceeded the set budget considerably,” the Council said.

It also said described the Maleth concept as having “clarity, is coherent and relevant to contemporary reality, and it comes across as a strong reflection of the contemporary art scene in Malta as the centre point of the Mediterranean.”

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