Diplomazija Astuta is the title of the selected curatorial project that will represent Malta at the next International Art Exhibition at the Biennale di Venezia in 2022.

Earlier this year, an international call for the engagement of a curatorial team to curate the Malta Pavilion at the 59th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia 2022 was published by Arts Council Malta, in its capacity as Pavilion Commissioner, under the auspices of the Ministry for the National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government. An evaluation board comprising of experts in the sector assessed the proposals received and unanimously decided that Diplomazija Astuta was the best project to represent Malta in Venice. 

Curators Keith Sciberras (MT) and Jeffrey Uslip (NY), through the creative collaboration of Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci (MT), Arcangelo Sassolino (IT) and the composition of renowned Maltese conductor and musician Brian Schembri (MT), will be re-articulating Caravaggio’s seminal altarpiece ‘The Beheading of St. John the Baptist’ (1608). For the Malta Pavilion, they will be creating a conceptual, immersive, site-specific installation that bridges biblical narratives with contemporary culture. Through their signature artistic visions, brothers Giuseppi Schembri Bonaci and Brian Schembri, together with Arcangelo Sassolino, shall transpose the zeitgeist of the Oratory of the Decollato in Valletta onto the Malta Pavilion, re-situating Caravaggio’s immanent themes within Modern life.
The work shall celebrate the centuries-long art historical exchange between Malta and Italy, while addressing many of the global challenges we face in today’s world, including inequality, justice, and peace. Collectively, their works prompt viewers to traverse a space where the tragedy, brutality and injustice of St. John’s execution are experienced in the present day, in real time and space. Through the re-presentation of St. John’s beheading through a contemporary sculptural language, biblical tragedy shall resonate with current world cultural events and aim to offers viewers a visceral examination of justice and peace.
Arcangelo Sassolino’s artwork aims to offer the absorptive qualities and thematic overtones of Caravaggio’s canvas by unfolding the altarpiece into the space of the Malta Pavilion and into the realm of contemporary social and political discourse. Sassolino’s artwork shall be accompanied by a musical composition by Brian Schembri. Schembri’s composed rhythmic pattern shall respect the exhibition’s spiritual silence, then build to a cinematic crescendo and culminate in a cathartic climax.
Throughout his oeuvre, Sassolino has experimented with industrial, mechanical, and alchemical manoeuvres to comment on the experiences and trials of human life. The artists’ use and interrogation of metal draws relation to the material and political histories of the twentieth century, which ushered in the era of steel and metal.
Metal is an indicator of progress and modernity, which, over a century, transformed the whole sustainability of the planet into one of a dangerous apocalyptic ‘zone.’ The significance of metal—steel—in the First and Second World Wars—its use in weaponry and steel-clad tanks, missile production and naval fleets—imbued the ore with its capacity for violence and geopolitical transformation. Steel denotes our modern age: it has defined the century of wars, skyscrapers, military weaponry, and transportation. Industrialization furthered Malta’s own position at the centre of the Mediterranean and importance as a military fortress prior to its neutrality status, creating a renewed place for metal within the national consciousness.
In Diplomazija astuta steel—the material intrinsic to 20th century modernity and impending doom —is melted to allegorically and biblically usher in 21st century progress, healing, reconciliation, and by extension, justice and peace.
Giuseppi Schembi Bonaci’s artwork “Metall u Skiet” shall also form part of the installation, in which excerpts from Psalm 139 shall be engraved in Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, Greek, Maltese, Italian, English, visually folding into and onto each other, rendered in three dimensions, and redefining humankind as a divine work of art. Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci shall provide sculptural form to language, making the spiritual concrete and offering viewers a 21st century Rosetta Stone—a “multi-layered relationship existing at different historical moments.” His embedded calligraphic marks and interwoven texts shall manifest an élan vital—languages striving for clarity, struggling to un-conceal the concealed truth.
Diplomazija Astuta shall transform the Malta Pavilion into a reverent, spiritual space in which the audience will be immersed into the aura of 'The Beheading', to engage with metal and silence, with fire as it is engulfed by water.
The 59th International Art Exhibition will take place from 23rd April to 27th November 2022 and will be curated by Cecilia Alemani. It will be titled The Milk of Dreams, a name borrowed from a book by Leonora Carrington. Alemani says, “the Surrealist artist describes a magical world where life is constantly re-envisioned through the prism of the imagination, and where everyone can change, be transformed, become something and someone else. The exhibition takes us on an imaginary journey through metamorphoses of the body and definitions of humanity.” Cecilia Alemani is a curator who has organized many exhibitions of contemporary artists. She is currently Director and Chief Curator of High Line Art, the programme of public art of the urban park in New York, and is the past curator of the Italian Pavilion at the Biennale Arte 2017.
Malta returned to La Biennale di Venezia in 2017 after a 17-year absence, and again in 2019. Prior to that, it had participated with a special exhibition of Maltese Artists in 1958 and a National Pavilion in 1999. Both the 2017 Malta Pavilion, titled Homo Melitensis: An Incomplete Inventory in 19 Chapters, as well as the 2019 Malta Pavilion, titled Maleth / Haven /Port — Heterotopias of Evocation, received international press acclaim, garnering a host of high-profile media accolades and acknowledgements.
The Evaluation board for the selection of the 2022 Malta Pavilion included experts of international reputation within the artistic and cultural sectors:
Ms. Rugilé Barzdžuikaité
The artist represented Lithuania at the 58th Venice Biennale of Contemporary Art and was the winner of the Golden Lion Award for the opera-performance "Sun and Sea.” She is a filmmaker and theatre director, winner of several international awards
Dr. Toni Sant
Maltese Academic, Digital Curation Lab Director at the University of Salford, Manchester and previously the Artistic Director at Spazju Kreattiv, Valletta
Perit Matthew Joseph Casha
Architect for the Malta Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2019
Ms. Ri Chakraborty
An award-winning executive producer and commissioning editor working globally across documentary and film.
Mr. Rupert Cefai
Visual artist and Chairman of Spazju Kreattiv, Valletta, since 2013
The evaluation was chaired by Mr. Eric Fenech Sevasta, Director Corporate Services at Arts Council Malta.
Keith Sciberras, Co-Curator
Professor Keith Sciberras Ph.D., (b.1970) is Head of the Department of Art and Art History within the Faculty of Arts, University of Malta. Received as an Andrew W. Mellon Senior Fellow (2005) in the Department of European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 2005, he was elected Trustee of the Association of Art Historians (AAH), London in 2012. Professor Sciberras has published extensively on the subject of Caravaggio,
Roman Baroque sculpture, and Italian Baroque painting and has contributed to numerous international research projects and exhibitions. Professor Sciberras is a Member of Senate and Rector’s Delegate for the Curation of the Historic Building and Works of Art.
Jeffrey Uslip, Co-Curator
New York-based curator Jeffrey Uslip has organized exhibitions with some of the most innovative, diverse and challenging artists of our time. Uslip is currently the American curator of the 2018-2020 Vancouver Biennale, titled re-IMAGE-n. From 2014-2017, Uslip served as Deputy Director for Exhibitions and Programs / Chief Curator of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. In addition, he curated numerous solo projects, organised museum debuts as well as organized exhibitions for renowned artists and museums. Additionally, he is an advanced PhD candidate at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts where he is completing his dissertation titled "Cady Noland and the Age of Reagan."
Brian Schembri, Artist
Brian Schembri is one of Malta’s most prolific and critically acclaimed musicians. He began his musical training at a young age under the guidance of his father Carmelo Schembri, and later graduated in piano and conducting at the Kiev and Moscow “Tchaikovsky” Conservatories. He was Chief Conductor of the OPF Orchestra and the Orquestra Metropolitana de Lisboa, Music Director at Teatru Manoel, and Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra. Schembri has been awarded the Malta Cultural Award and the Medal for Service to the Republic. He has been guest conductor to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Orquestra Ciutat Barcelona, Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, l’Orchestre Nationale de Radio France, the Lithuanian State Symphony, Orchestre National de Lyon, London Philharmonic, Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie, the Svetlanov State Symphony Orchestra, Hong Kong Opera, amongst others.
Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci, Artist
Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci studied Philosophy, Law and the Arts. He graduated from the University of Malta, from the State University of Kiev, and from the State University of Moscow, and undertook postgraduate research studies at the State University of Milan. He has authored several books on Modern and Contemporary Art, Philosophy of Art, and Maltese twentieth-century Art. Schembri Bonaci is coordinator of the Fine Arts Programme in the Department of Art and Art History, Artistic Director of the APS Mdina Cathedral Contemporary Art Biennale, and Artistic Director of the Strada Stretta Concept, a cultural programme under the auspices of the Valletta Cultural Agency. He is currently working on a series of publications on the Maltese artist Josef Kalleya’s visual dialogue with Dante’s Divina Commedia.
Arcangelo Sassolino, Artist
Arcangelo Sassolino was born in Vicenza in 1967 and has been exhibiting internationally since 2001. Solo exhibitions include the Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis (2016), Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2008), Critical Mass, Feinkost, Berlin, Germany (2008), Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, Italy (2010) and MACRO Museum, Rome, Italy (2011), to name a few. Works by Arcangelo Sassolino can be found in public and private collections including: MART in Rovereto, 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, Essl Sammlung in Vienna, UniCredit Private Banking, Fondazione Domus per l’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea and Palazzo Maffei – Fondazione Carlon,Verona.
Nikki Petroni, Project Manager
Nikki Petroni read for an undergraduate degree in History of Art at the University of Malta and pursued postgraduate studies at University College London (UCL), graduating in 2013. She completed a Ph.D. in Maltese Modern art at the University of Malta in 2019 under the supervision of Prof. Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci. She is a visiting lecturer in Modern and Contemporary art at the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Malta. Petroni is part of the curatorial committee of the APS Mdina Cathedral Contemporary Art Biennale and Coordinator of the Strada Stretta Concept (Valletta Cultural Agency). Aside from being an independent researcher and curator, she has edited several academic essays, books, and exhibition catalogues.
Esther Flury, Project Manager
Swiss born and NY-based arts professional Esther Flury has over two decades of experience working with international artists. Flury produced and co-curated Christoph Schlingensief's first exhibition project at the Venice Biennial: 'Church of Fear' in the Arsenale and the 'Pole Sitting Contest' in the Giardini. Initiated and managed art projects for RxArt, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help children heal through the power of visual art by commissioning contemporary artists to transform healthcare facilities into engaging and inspiring environments. Additionally, Flury served as visual arts expert for the Swiss Arts Council / Pro Helvetia in the Department for Cultural Exchange with Central Eastern Europe. Flury holds an MA in Art History, Media Sciences and Linguistics from University of Zurich, Switzerland, edited the catalogue raisonné / artist book of the work of Swiss artist Roman Signer and is a contributing writer for international art journals, newspapers and exhibition catalogues.

Page Image: Vince Briffa, "Outland", video, audio, voice, wood and water installation, Malta Pavilion, Venice Art Biennale 2019 (photography: David Levene)