Now that you mention aesthetics…

Who would not say that Malta was thoroughly deflowered during that golden age of aestheticism when visionaries like Tonio Fenech and George Pullicino, and of course Richard Cachia Caruana, called the shots

For a moment I imagined what Austin Gatt, were he minister, would do if faced with criticism about ‘lack of aesthetics’
For a moment I imagined what Austin Gatt, were he minister, would do if faced with criticism about ‘lack of aesthetics’

It was of course only the most obvious gesture that the PN-in-exile front that recently gave birth to the civil society group Repubblika, issued a statement on Republic Day.

One of their gripes was revealing, complaining that the Maltese live in a culture with no sense of aesthetics, owing to our collective ability to “appreciate what is beautiful and what is ugly”. That’s us told!

You have to remember that this statement was issued after quite a formidable Republic Day address by the President on what is probably Malta’s most important national day, together with Independence, with a strong message to work for the fullness of democracy and inclusive citizenry.

Comparisons are odious here, and it is unfortunate that I have to state the difference between the powerful message of the Head of State, and the post-it note that was Repubblika’s ‘little Malta’ gripe. The last thing we might have expected is a slap on our wrists by the erudite atelier of philosophes that Repubblika has suddenly become, even with a factotum who graduated with flying colours from the University of the ultra-abrasive Austin Gatt.

Because it is impossible to have one’s memory erased each time a Repubblika press release comes into the email inbox from Manuel Delia – servant of Gatt, the father of what became the Smart City fiasco (or godsend to the construction and development industry…), the Nationalist Rottweiler who preached that austerity was good for us (energy hike, anyone?), the man who was supposed to be running Enemalta when it was at the centre of the notorious oil procurement commissions saga, the minister who decided one day to forget to declare his Swiss bank account in his parliamentary records… so many gems. So hard to erase from recent history.

For a moment I imagined what Gatt, were he minister, would do if faced with criticism about ‘lack of aesthetics’. I can imagine him bursting into uncontrolled laughter. Gatt was, after all, one of those Nationalist ministers too busy taking the country forward to bother about aesthetics and which small band of know-it-alls was making a song and dance about coarseness.

I mean, who would not say that Malta was thoroughly deflowered during that golden age of aestheticism when visionaries like Tonio Fenech and George Pullicino, and of course Richard Cachia Caruana, called the shots; when public broadcasting current affairs shows were stewarded by Pierre Portelli, or Lou Bondì, and so many other journalists who performed simply with a twitch on the thread from Castille (Bondì since then has crossed over to those he once delighted in treating as scoundrels, after appreciating the rich, creamier butter of Labour).

Oh, let us indeed enter the wormhole to revisit some glorious monument-building, perhaps the monstrous Tigné Project, so emblematic of the Nationalist desire to let the private sector decide aesthetics for the common good; not to forget the Fort Cambridge high-rise; the hotels built outside development zones; the 2006 extension of building zones; or Francis Zammit Dimech’s St Julian’s and Sliema follies with the upside-down LOVE taking first prize for beauty.

Oh! Would some holier-than-thou preacher have pontificated back then on Malta’s uglification…

Maybe it is time for Repubblika’s luminaries to ditch their Dorling Kindersley books, and stop posing as intellectuals out to save the island from its illiterate hordes. Such dilettantism from self-righteous know-it-alls is not what civil society activism should be about. Indeed, it pains me to know that any statement that carries enough posturing, gets published in the press with the same exposure that the President’s Republic Day speech enjoys.

Re-reading that statement, I can just understand how some people’s minds work: they want a platform to vent their frustration as not being the recipients of patronage they once enjoyed. Hopefully enough, the poisonous gossip factories once ran by these spin doctors of yore are becoming a thing of the past.

V18 has come to an end

Valletta’s year as European Capital of Culture has come to an end, and truly enough, many have witnessed the explosion of events that took place in the capital city. As was the intention of the ECOC, this initiative also serves to attract economic interest to cities that are, at times, ‘underserved’. Valletta has enjoyed a tourism and investment boom in the 12 months, and now the great challenge for V18 is to maintain the legacy of this regeneration alive… without turning Valletta into some exclusive crash-pad for arty illuminati.

If something has changed in Malta it has been the proliferation of the arts in all its forms across the classes, in part also aided to much-needed subventions from the Arts Council to musicians, dance companies, artists, authors, filmmakers and theatre companies.

Whatever nasty hangover from past administrations on the way funds are disbursed to certain types of artists, has to be kept in check and nursed back to a meritorious distribution of funds. And indeed, diversity must be championed: not just by supporting ‘straight’ forms of art, but even experimental, conceptual and controversial productions that give people a view of the world and the human condition from different eyes.

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