Published on Friday 28 April 2017

A few days before the official opening of the Biennale di Venezia 2017, Ilona Cheshire from Margaret London offers a behind-the-scenes look at some of the media preparations surrounding this prestigious art event

A month before the grand opening of the Malta Pavilion at this year’s Biennale di Venezia (13 May until 26 November), a group of five international journalists were invited to take a cultural tour of Malta at the start of the Easter celebrations. As one of the party promoting Malta at La Biennale I was included, and discovered a broader and historical context for future communications.

The motivating factor behind this sharing of culture is that 2017 marks the return of Malta to this highly lauded and internationally revered art event after a 17-year absence. During this lengthy hiatus contemporary Maltese art has blossomed, but without a great deal of attention locally and overseas. Journalists who attended this cultural tour will be sharing their experiences to readers via USA, UK, China and Italian publications and reaching far wider online. 

Our visit to Malta began on the day of processions for Our Lady of Sorrows. Over the following three days we walked around Valletta, Vittoriosa and Gozo, taking in, among other buildings, the new Parliament Building, Casa Rocca Piccola, St John’s co-Cathedral and the new arts space Blitz as we went. This juxtaposition of the past with the present was especially interesting to the group, as the contemporary complemented the stunning historical churches and palaces.

With Malta currently holding the title of Presidency of the Council of the European Union and next year seeing Valletta as the European Capital of Culture, Maltese cultural identity is under the world’s spotlight. It is also the premise of the exhibition at the Biennale di Venezia with: Homo Melitensis: An Incomplete Inventory in 19 Chapters. Over 200 items of historic artefacts and ephemera will be exhibited in the Malta Pavilion, alongside works by 13 Maltese contemporary artists whose work includes sculpture, photography, painting and film. The Pavilion brings together examples of what is fascinating and fantastical, imaginative and inspiring about Maltese culture and places contemporary art at the heart of it.                  

Tourists that we saw shared our eagerness to absorb the history of Malta, but what they may not be aware of are the recent developments in the contemporary Maltese art scene and the internationalisation of it. Our group had the privilege of meeting some of the artists whose work will be featured in Venice, gain a first-hand experience of what inspires them, visit their studios and leave with a contextual understanding of why they create what they do. It feels that their work, and that of their peers, is integral to the progression of Maltese art and how it is appreciated on a competitive, worldwide platform. The forthcoming biennale is going to be the start of a new era for the nation’s art and culture.

Photo: Austin Camilleri, one of the artists participating in the Malta Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia 2017,
explaining his work to the press