The programme aims to support young artists interested in art activism through intensive mentorship, a project grant, an interdisciplinary programme, and peer support from a growing community. Throughout the 18 months of the programme, both organizations strived to create a safe space for conversation. Our objective was for the artists to explore what Art Activism is and why it is crucial in the 21st century.
I caught up with the 2019/2020 Artivisti and discussed their experience and the impact the programme left on their practice. This post makes use of both English and Maltese languages, I believe this is the best way to represent and get to know the distinct characters of the current cohort.
The current Artivisti includes five artists Emma Fsadni, Gabriel Lia, Nathalie DeGabriele Ferrante, Rachelle Deguara, and Sheldon Saliba. For some, the programme was the first experience producing socially embedded artistic practice. Sheldon whose work revolves around personal experiences with objects and the environment decided to embark on the project Tiles of Occupation. Tiles of Occupation directly tackles the construction industry and its impact on the environment. “The intended outcome of the happenings (onsite actions) is to raise questions about the construction industry in the Maltese islands, which is frankly out of control… By building my structure in various locations, some of which are already threatened, I will ironically be playing my part in blocking the view and occupying the space,” Sheldon emphasized.
Emma’s aesthetic is very minimal and suggestive, she believes this enables her work to be socially embedded “it creates space to prompt elements of self-awareness, both for the viewers and myself”. Emma is determined to not limit herself to Artivism but explore different creative forms as she develops as an artist. Rachelle whose work was already rooted within social practice took the opportunity to invest in her training and artistic development. Through her evolving relationship with mentor Annalisa Schembri Rachelle explored different art forms and voice techniques.
Ir-rabta ta ’Gabriel mal-Artivismu ddur mal-uman. “Bħala żagħżugħ nipprova nagħraf il-valur li jinsab f'kull persuna, għaliex kulħadd għandu l-istorja tiegħu għalaqstant ix-xogħlijiet kreattivi tiegħi jduru ħafna man-nies, id-drawwiet tagħhom u l-postijiet li fihom jabitaw. Tiżwiqa ta' sempliċità komuni li jaf normalment lanqas biss tħares lejha darbtejn iżda jekk tieqaf u tħares lejha aktar mill-qrib tinnota ċertu eċċentriċità. Jiena nesprimi dan kollu bil-kitba u l-fotografija.” Għall-programm Artivisti, Gabriel ħadem fuq ġabra ta’ kitbiet, poġġi. “Poġġi bilqiegħda. Poġġi lilek innifsek fiż-żarbun tagħhom. lt-tema ewlenija hija s-solitudni jew aħjar kif wieħed jħares lejha u jgħixha. Il-ħarsa hija aktar iffukata fuq l-anzjani. Dan kien proġett illi kien ilu jberren f'moħħi sa minn qabel il-pandemija iżda imbagħad fis-sena li għaddiet bdejt inħares lejh minn perspettiva ġdida. Jekk kwarantina għalik kienet diffiċli aħseb u ara perjodu ta' kwarantina kostanti fil-ħajja tiegħek.”
Nathalie’s work focuses on two main elements, “creativity and the art of storytelling” creating “projects to help readers feel close to a parallel world of imagination and possibilities”. As part of her programme, Nathalie wrote a novel addressing preteens revolving around family. “Family: the ones we’re born into, and the ones choose for ourselves”.
Like most of us, the Artivisti faced numerous challenges brought about by the pandemic, however, the sense of community and the support of their respective mentors helped them embrace the changes and allow their projects to flourish in a new context. Nathalie says “COVID-19’s impact was subtle but very present”. Emma argues the pandemic also impacted the project positively “the following period of self-isolation worked in the project’s favour. It allowed time and space to analyse, reflect and create links upon all that was sourced”. Emma’s project starts off from several conversations that Emma had with people about conditioned comforts. These conversations will evolve and influence the body of work due to being exhibited at Spazju Kreattiv later this year. Sheldon’s project also saw numerous elements being shifted or modified to the new reality, having the support of his mentor Tom Van der Malderen Sheldon also solidified his plans into concrete structures, “Tom helped me think critically and build upon my initial concept”.
Gabriel ukoll iltaqa’ mad-diffikultajiet tiegħu. “Għal bidu ma kontx naf kif se nattwa l-proġett anke għaliex ma stajtx niltaqa' mal-anzjani b'mod dirett iżda imbagħad grazzi għal għajnuna ta' Glen Calleja li kien il-gwida tiegħi f'dan il-proġett għaraft kif nista' niżviluppa metodi oħrajn ta' kif nista' nikkomunika mal-anzjani u niddokumenta l-esperjenza fit-totalità tagħha nkluż l-isfidi li din ġabet magħha. Fil-fatt il-ġabra tinkludi fost l-oħrajn, notamenti minn telefonati li kelli mal-anzjani u poeżiji tal-anzjani nnifishom lil hinn mill-anedotti tiegħi”.
Saqsejt liż-żagħżagħ x’fisser il-programm għalihom “Inħoss illi rċivejt ħafna għaliex kbirt fil-mod kif niżviluppa l-ideat tiegħi, kif għandi nippreżenthom u kemm huma kruċjali t-tqassim tal-ħin u l-perseveranza biex tirnexxi... Kuntent għaliex inħoss li dan għadu biss il-bidu ta' dak li nixtieq nattwa kemm bħala artist kif ukoll bħala attivist. Qisha l-ewwel qabża f'baħar kiesaħ. Iżda imbagħad malajr tidrah u tibda titla' biex taqbeż u terġa' taqbeż. Nammetti, inħobbhom wisq il-metafori u anke l-baħar,” saħaq Gabriel.
Sheldon argues he benefitted from the programme on various accounts, he found the multidisciplinary programme particularly useful. This programme included various sessions such as pitching your project and marketing. Emma adds, “the aid that the programme offers through mentorship, workshops, and funds have also greatly helped in materialising such a project, which has less of commercial incentive. The programme’s short residency done with the other Artivisiti at the start of the experience, was also a positive opportunity to build new connections, get grounded with our creativity, and also familiarise ourselves with what taking on the role of an Artistivist individually meant to us”. The sense of community and interaction with like-minded people was also one of the highlights for Nathalie whose mentor Chris Grupetta also passed on in-depth knowledge about the publishing industry also brokering important connections for Nathalie’s artistic growth.
Emma’s interaction with her mentor Margerita Pule was a highlight of the experience, particularly the constant back and forth dialogue that allows Emma to get out of her head and clarify her thoughts. Rachelle argued “The development of the Artivisti project could not have been predicted at the beginning of the journey. There were many twists and turns which I could have never expected and I am very glad to have had Annalisa by my side which introduced me to many methodologies of how to deal with and manage many unexpected events not only in a project but also in life in general".
Artivism will be discussed in more detail in the upcoming ACMlab session Let's talk Artivism. Arts Council Malta and Agenzija ŻagħZagħ are also excited to be working on the third edition of the programme which will welcome new youths with new voices, perspectives, and projects in the coming months.