Sculptor and ceramist Ganni Bonnici passes away at 86

With a myriad monuments he designed in Malta and others for Japan, Canada and the United States, Ganni Bonnici was a prolific and talented sculptor

Ganni Bonnici
Ganni Bonnici

Renowned sculptor and ceramist Ganni Bonnici passed away on Saturday at the age of 86, just eighteen days short of his eighty-seventh birthday, leaving behind a legacy of public monuments in Malta.

Born on 4 September, 1932, Bonnici made a name for himself in the field of sculpture and is a pioneer in the field of modern ceramics in Malta. His talents have equally found expression in the field of medal, coin and stamp design.

He initiated his artistic training at the Malta School of Art where he studied between 1945 and 1953 before moving to the UK to specialise in ceramics at the Ceramics College at Stoke-on-Trent. In 1954 he received a four-year scholarship to continue his studies at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome. 

Bonnici was also known for his ceramics
Bonnici was also known for his ceramics

He completed other diploma courses at the Scuola d`Arte Ornamentale for wood carving, at the Scuola d`Arte della Medaglia and the Istituto Statale d`Arte di Roma for ceramics.  At a later stage he studied in England at the University of London Institute Of Education, the Slade School of Art, Leicester Polytechnic College of Education and Loughborough University of Technology.

Bonnici with his St Joseph the Worker, now in Paola outside the former St Joseph Secondary Technical School
Bonnici with his St Joseph the Worker, now in Paola outside the former St Joseph Secondary Technical School

Bonnici was responsible for a large number of public monuments in Malta and abroad.  These include St Joseph the Worker on the façade of the former St Joseph Secondary Technical School, Paola,  Madonna Regina for the Maria Regina Girls’ Grammar School at Blata l-Bajda, St Francis of Assisi (1974) and the Madonna of Porziuncola (1975) for the Porziuncola Retreat House at Bahar ic-Caghaq, and the monument to Dr Nicola Zammit at Siggiewi.   

His Marija Omm il-Maltin, completed in 1983, is a prominent feature on the façade of Burmarrad parish church. When it was installed it was described as a piece of sculpture ‘that arrests the attention because it is a work of art that combines many elements and many sentiments: youth and maturity, simplicity and majesty, movement and repose, modernity and dignity, strength and delicacy.’

For the parish church of Santa Lucia he produced, in marble, the main altar and three holy-water fonts, the 14 Stations of the Via Crucis in stoneware, Christ on the Cross in cold-cast bronze, acclaimed for being ‘monumental, noble, dominant yet simple, plain, human’, the bronze tabernacle for the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, and an eight-foot Madonna sculpted in wood. 

Bonnici was also responsible for the monuments commemorating the victims of World War II put up in Senglea, Mosta and Attard and more recently the bronze monument commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Works Division in Lija and the ANZAC monument at the Argotti gardens in Floriana.
   
In 1989, on the 25th anniversary of Malta’s Independence, the bronze and marble Independence Monument by Bonnici was inaugurated at the entrance to Il-Mall at Floriana. With a height of 28ft, it was to be not only the largest creation by Bonnici himself but perhaps the tallest statue-based monument in Malta.

Bonnici with Christ on the Cross, the sculpture he made for the Santa Lucija parish church
Bonnici with Christ on the Cross, the sculpture he made for the Santa Lucija parish church

The female figure (an allegory for Malta) strides forward into the unknown as she liberates herself from the shackles of the past (symbolised by the abstracted bands beneath her) whilst tightly holding aloft the national flag in one hand.

Bonnici’s works can also be found in various European countries, Canada, Australia and the USA. Between 1990 and 1994, Bonnici produced a life-size statue of The Risen Christ, a 48-foot wide monument dedicated to the 26 martyrs of Japan, and a Via Crucis for the church of the Holy Martyrs of Japan in Bradford in Canada. 

Bonnici had an equally distinguished career in the educational field. In 1974 he set up the Malta School of Arts and Crafts at Targa Gap where he occupied the post of head until his retirement in 1992.  In 1982 he received the Italart award by the Associazione Nazionale d’Arti Culturale d’ Italia.  This was followed in 1990 with the Malta Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce Gold Medal for his artistic achievements in sculpture, in 1993 with the Premio Citta` di Valletta organised by Editore Vincenzo Ursini di Catanzaro in collaboration with the association of Maltese poets and under the patronage of the President of Malta and in 1999 with Gieh il-Mosta.  

In 2002 he was invested with the M.O.M. (Member of the National Order of Merit) by the Government of Malta for his artistic achievements.

Ganni Bonnici is survived by his wife Pauline and his two sons.

More in Art