After an absence of almost two decades, the Malta Pavilion returned to the 57th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia this summer.
The conceptual exhibition: Homo Melitensis: An incomplete inventory in 19 chapters, devised by the artist-curators Raphael Vella and Bettina Hutschek resulted in a spirited, often provocative address of Maltese cultural identity, history, religion, myths and politics, expressed through over 200 items of ephemera and historical artefacts and 13 contemporary artists from the Maltese diaspora.
The featured artists included Aaron Bezzina, Adrian Abela, Austin Camilleri, Darren Tanti, David Pisani, Gilbert Calleja, Joe Sacco, John Paul Azzopardi, Karine Rougier, Maurice Tanti Burlò aka Nalizpelra, Pia Borg, Roxman Gatt and Teresa Sciberras.
Achieving over 100,000 visitors to the exhibition between May - November 2017, the exhibition also garnered a host of high profile media accolades and acknowledgements, including coverage in prestigious titles such as Laura Cumming, art critic for The Observer, who listed it as one of the five best pavilions, describing it as “Sardonic, hilarious, Malta’s tongue-in-cheek portrait of itself through films, paintings and sculptures as a set of nearly insurmountable clichés- Maltese knights, falcons, rabbits, votives, Maltesers (who knew?). An island so riven by politics that even appearing at the Biennale is controversial: is it a vote-catcher?”
Karen Gardiner, writing for American art journal, Hyperallergic commented that “Malta’s Pavilion offers a sense of the tiny nation interrogating itself as it steps onto the international stage.” She explained how “The country is an amalgam of cultures and influences”, and how that complexity was examined at the Malta Pavilion.
The Culture Trip listed it as one of “The 10 National Pavilions You Can’t Miss at the Venice Biennale” and described it as follows: "Returning to the Venice Biennale after a 17-year hiatus, the Malta pavilion presents the group show, Homo Melitensis. Through the juxtaposition of historic cultural artefacts with contemporary Maltese art practices, the artist-curators Raphael Vella and Bettina Hutschek playfully interpret the spirit of the Maltese identity, examining nationhood and diaspora through the nonhierarchical installation."
US style title Paste Magazine listed the Malta Pavilion as one of the best shows to see and described the Pavilion as “...a kind of mini museum filled with contemporary artworks and historical artifacts... The displayed items range from the serious (religious iconography) to the absurd (a box of Maltesers candy), while high profile international art magazine, Art Review, interviewed the curators Raphael Vella and Bettina Hutschek.
Other highlights included Love magazine’s interview with London based Maltese artist Roxman Gatt, with further endorsement for her work in internationally renowned style title Dazed Digital.
TRT World interviewed various Maltese artists participating in the Malta Pavilion during the opening of the Venice Biennale; Italy’s Espresso featured Austin Camilleri’s artwork, alongside a further preview feature of the Pavilion in major Italian art title, Artitribune.
America’s Forbes magazine, referring to the Biennale Arte 2017 as the “Olympics of the artworld... showcasing the work of hundreds of international contemporary artists” listed the Malta Pavilion as one of the thirteen reasons to visit Biennale Arte 2017. The author of the article, Joanne Shurvell stated, “Malta's return to the biennale after an absence of seventeen years (and only their 3rd appearance in the biennale since it started in 1895) was particularly strong.”
Commissioned by Arts Council Malta as part of an incentive to showcase Maltese arts internationally, Homo Melitensis: An incomplete inventory in 19 chapters brought together works by artists based in Malta, works by artists from the Maltese diaspora, folk artefacts, works from private and national collections, as well as artefacts and images from different sources, such as journalism, national and private collections and popular culture, that combined interpret, question and define the imaginative spirit of the Maltese identity.
Various celebrities and VIPs visited the Malta Pavilion in Venice, including Italian actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta (Il Postino, James Bond), Maltese Ambassador to Rome Vanessa Frazier and Maltese art collector and patron Francis Sultana, who co-hosted the VIP reception of the Malta Pavilion at the private residence of Nori Starck in Venice.
Among the VIP guests at the Malta Pavilion reception were Bruno Ragazzi (husband of Angela Missoni), Capera Ryan (Deputy Chair, Christie’s), Francesca Bortolotto (Owner and CEO, Bauer Hotel), Yana Peel (CEO, Serpentine Galleries), Hans Ulrich Obrist (Artistic Director, Serpentine Galleries).
Photo credit: Taxidermy Maltese rabbit. National Museum of Natural History, Mdina, Malta. Photo: Alexandra Pace. Courtesy Heritage Malta
ARTS COUNCIL MALTA
The Malta Pavilion was commissioned by Arts Council Malta, - under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice, Culture and Local Government. It also formed part of the Cultural programme of the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2017. Malta’s participation at the Biennale Arte 2017 was one of the 70 actions being implemented as part of Strategy2020, Arts Council Malta’s five-year strategy for the cultural and creative sectors.
ARTIST CURATORS’ BIOGRAPHIES:
Bettina Hutschek is a visual artist, filmmaker and curator who lives and works between Malta and Berlin. After studying Art History and Philosophy (BA) in Florence and Augsburg, she received her MA from Universitat der Künste (UdK) Berlin and her MFA in Fine Arts from HGB Leipzig. She trained and worked in Art Mediation and spent one year as Visiting Scholar at the Department of Performance Studies at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Bettina’s work has been exhibited internationally; since 2013, she is also founder and director of FRAGMENTA Malta, a project to organize pop-up exhibitions in the public space of the Maltese islands.
Raphael Vella is an artist, curator and educator who has exhibited his work internationally and has been active as a curator since 2002, working with emerging and established artists in institutional as well as alternative settings both locally and internationally. He studied art in Malta and completed his PhD in Fine Arts at the University of the Arts London in 2006. He has initiated several artistic and educational projects in Malta, including the Valletta International Visual Arts festival (VIVA), the Curatorial School organised by the Valletta 2018 Foundation and Divergent Thinkers organised by the youth agency Aġenzija Żgħażagħ.
PAVILION OF MALTA PARTNERS:
The Ministry of Justice, Culture and Local Government | The 2017 Maltese Presidency of the Council of the European Union | The Malta Tourism Authority | The Valletta 2018 Foundation | Heritage Malta | IP and AP
PAVILION OF MALTA IS SUPPORTED BY:
Bank of Valletta | Malta Motorways of the Sea Limited | Grimaldi | Maltese Embassy in Rome | Mr Francis Sultana