Looking back at 2019 | A cultural snapshot of Malta

TEODOR RELJIC digs into a year’s worth of interviews to feel out some of the main preoccupations among local creatives of every artistic discipline

Simone Spiteri
Simone Spiteri

Simone Spiteri, Author and Theatre Director

“I think it’s a transitional time. The scene is exploring what it wants to be in many ways, sometimes with results that leave much to be desired. I do feel there’s a lack of a fringe sector which I feel is important to have in any theatre scene. When we started, out there were always a good ten or so small companies at any given time in the theatre season – not everyone was producing the same type or quality of work, of course, but I think it’s really important to have these small companies that exist in parallel to the larger, more institutional ones.

“A healthy theatre scene requires and should have space for both. The fringe is where the real experimentation takes place, where mistakes can be made and lessons learnt, where the pressure is not big enough to force people to take safe choices rather than push the boundaries because the stakes are too high. It’s a playground each new artist needs because it’s where real growth happens and I think many are skipping this pivotal step.”

 

Alexander Vella Gregory, musician

“Very often we speak of a ‘music scene’ or an ‘arts scene’ and that approach unfortunately often leads to creative and cultural isolation. We are currently undergoing great social and cultural upheavals and unlike past periods of transition this is not a gradual process but a violent sweeping away or distortion of the past. We can see the results in the way we are destroying our tangible heritage: horror stories of old buildings being demolished or gutted, old books being discarded, and art disappearing or deteriorating before our very eyes.

Alexander Vella Gregory
Alexander Vella Gregory

“But the worst victim is our intangible heritage, precisely because it is not visible. The gutting of a building, the throwing away of an old book, and the disappearance of an art object result in the eradication of our stories. Sometimes even the most insignificant annotation on a piece of paper and the context in which it was found can shed light on our past.

“On top of that is our national passivity in the face of this destruction – mostly because people do not realise the importance of what is being lost. This is not about aesthetics – it is about our national identity. It all boils down to education, because the system gears its citizens towards economic gain, and not cultural gain. But what are we without our stories? The result is the fake existences we have created for ourselves in the digital world – a world of algorithms and filters. Why like a picture of a church or a video of a song when you can go and physically be in that space and listen to that music live?

“Many people think of change as being a government policy or a ‘roadmap’. It isn’t. Change is us: telling our stories, and creating new ones together – expanding on the narrative we have inherited from our ancestors. So I will not speak of change as a future hope but rather as the present in action: salvaging stories, retelling them, and expanding them.”

 

Immanuel Mifsud, Author

“During a recent meeting for writers, called by the National Book Council, during which we discussed authors’ rights, I urged fellow writers not to think too much about their rights without first assuming social and political responsibilities. That was a mistake on my part. I should have never made such a plea. A writer who writes love stories is no less of a writer than someone who writes critically. Of course, I would be happier if all the writers were to respond critically to our times, but I don’t think it is a duty. I should have never proposed authors what to write. That was one grave mistake. Mind you, I will probably commit it again.”

Immanuel Mifsud
Immanuel Mifsud

 

Gabriel Buttigieg, Painter

“The local art scene is what it is. Everyone has their own language, their own circle, their own insecurities and their own ambitions. As a visual artist who has been consistently loyal to painting, I must admit that I am a bit sceptical over other art forms.

Gabriel Buttigieg
Gabriel Buttigieg

“That said, I feel that as long as the person is loyal towards what they feel, I have no problem with it. The problem I have is when a person tries too hard to look for something new and as a consequence is not genuine and true to what they are trying to portray.

“As a Maltese artist I do feel that, once again, we lack painters. Which to be honest I find quite surprising, since painting has once again risen to the forefront on an international level, with a number of artists opting for it as their chosen visual language – artists whom I respect and admire very much.”

 

Undine LaVerve, Burlesque dancer

“We all know how the [Valletta Capital of Culture 2018] went. I definitely see an increase in productions around the island and more variety. Some independent and quite underground, like my own; some partially and other heavily funded. I have seen an increase in productions in Maltese, which is great, at least they are out there safeguarding the island’s linguistic heritage. I am happy to see a lot of political satire and participate in such shows when possible, that is imperative to keep the nation in check.

Undine LaVerve
Undine LaVerve

“With that in mind, I think we have a lot of great artists fighting the good fight. Those who truly understand and love the arts scene and who, like myself, believe that the arts can bring about change. That can evoke emotion, move and drive the nation. I admire people who don’t give up their beliefs and conviction and prefer to step down rather than go against them, when they don’t agree with the decisions coming from above.I think the arts scene and the arts funds should be controlled by people who are deeply involved and experienced in the scene itself.”

 

Charles Cassar, musician

“Perversely, I’d like to see fewer people aim for some chimeric notion of professionalism, and more people embrace hobbyism, and appreciate the freedom that comes with that. This is a small market, and having to earn a living from it will often necessitate compromises. I find it very telling that most of the truly interesting music coming out of the local pop music scene has been made by committed amateurs, rather than professionals. I don’t mean to encourage sloppiness, people should still strive to ‘be good’, but I think it would be healthy for more people to accept that being a musician in Malta is a low stakes game, so why not take a risk and challenge your audiences?”

Charles Cassar
Charles Cassar

 

Justine Balzan Demajo, curator

“In the last few years the art scene has progressively improved, with more art spaces opening up and more investments being made. Whether this growth is sustainable is another question. If I had one wish, it would be for the local art scene to be more daring, and get even more outside its comfort zone. Only then can we really grow. Also, there is still a dire need to create more engagement with the public, and participating with educational establishments and projects helping the coming generations to be more enthusiastic and involved.”

Justice Balzan Demajo
Justice Balzan Demajo

 

Ritty Tacsum, Photographer

“What would I change about the local arts scene? It’s probably the misconceptions about being an artist, and the pretentiousness that surrounds such a label. I think being an artist does not necessarily mean that the work created has to have some sort of concept inherently tied to it; in my case, more often than not, it is purely emotional, and there is no essay to accompany it. Sometimes, a body of work simply represents a preoccupation, a pattern, which emerges over time, as is the case with this exhibition, in which the visual and aesthetic narrative, reveals a constant in my work, which I was not immediately aware of. Secondly, being an artist doesn’t mean you deserve special treatment... I often hear people complaining about lack of support, lack of funding... truth is, we have to work like everybody else to realise our dreams; and it is only by working hard that we can achieve our goals.”

Ritty Tacsum
Ritty Tacsum

 

Erica Muscat, Actress

“International collaborations are at the forefront of the Arts Council’s agenda and I’m blessed to be working with Unifaun Theatre that has made it their mission to challenge the local scene with foreign collaborations. I’d love to see this continue to grow and I’d love to see national productions tour internationally, offering actors an opportunity to be part of a run that extends for months at a time, allowing us to immerse ourselves in a role in a way we’ve not yet been able to do before. Also, I’d love to see more programmed productions with women in the title role. “There’s been an incredible push, locally, by directors and producers over the past decade to balance the number of roles in a play, often changing the roles which would have traditionally been played by men, to be played by women, and it’s been really exciting to see how these roles are re-interpreted as a result of the switch. But I’d love to see more of my own struggles and triumphs playing out on the stage when I go to the theatre. Theatre should serve as an experiential laboratory to make sense of a world that seems to make so little sense otherwise. Equal representation would go a long way in serving this cathartic experience.”

Erica Muscat
Erica Muscat

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