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 Arts Council Malta published – in its capacity as Pavilion Commissioner, under the auspices of the Ministry for the National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government – 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. 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 rearticulating 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 along with Arcangelo Sassolino shall transpose the zeitgeist of the Valletta Oratory of the Decollato onto the Malta Pavilion, resituating 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 contemporary sculptural language of this modern day representation of St. John’s beheading, Biblical tragedy shall resonate with current world cultural events and offer viewers a visceral analysis of justice and peace.
Arcangelo Sassolino’s artwork aims to present 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. His contribution 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 trials and tribulations of human life. The artist’s 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 a dangerous apocalyptic ‘zone’. The significance of metal and steel in the First and Second World Wars – especially its use in weaponry and steel-clad tanks, missile production and naval fleets – imbued the ore with a potential for violence and geopolitical transformation. Steel denotes our modern age: it has defined a century of wars, skyscrapers, military weaponry and transportation. Industrialization furthered Malta’s own position at the centre of the Mediterranean and its importance as a military fortress prior to adopting a 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 the 21st century into progress, healing, reconciliation, and by extension, justice and peace.
Giuseppi Schembri Bonaci’s artwork Metall u Skiet shall also form part of the installation. Excerpts from Psalm 139 shall be engraved in three dimensions in Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, Greek, Maltese, Italian and English, visually folding into and onto each other and redefining humankind as a divine work of art. Thus he shall provide sculptural form to language, while 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 also 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 of St. John to engage with metal and silence... and with fire engulfed by water.
Curated by Cecilia Alemani, the 59th International Art Exhibition will take place from 23rd April to 27th November 2022. It will be titled The Milk of Dreams, a name borrowed from a book by Leonora Carrington. In this regard, Alemani expalins that “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.” Alemani has organized several exhibitions by contemporary artists. She is currently Director and Chief Curator of High Line Art, the public multimedia contemporary art programme of New York’s urban park. In 2017 she curated the Italian Pavilion at the Biennale di Venezia.
After a 17-year absence, Malta returned to the Biennale di Venezia in 2017 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 (Homo Melitensis: An Incomplete Inventory in 19 Chapters) and the 2019 Malta Pavilion (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.
EVALUATION BIOARD MEMEBERS
The artist represented Lithuania at the 58th Venice Biennale of Contemporary Art. Among several other prizes she won the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival for the opera-performance Sun and Sea. She is also a filmmaker and theatre director.
Maltese Academic. He is currently Digital Curation Lab Director at the University of Salford, Manchester. Previously he was Artistic Director at Spazju Kreattiv, Valletta.
Matthew Joseph Casha
Architect for the Malta Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2019.
An award-winning executive producer and commissioning editor working globally across documentary and film.
Visual artist and Chairman of Fondazzjoni Kreattività since 2013.
The evaluation was chaired by Eric Fenech Sevasta, Director Corporate Services at Arts Council Malta.
CURATORIAL TEAM BIONOTES
Keith Sciberras, Co-Curator
Professor Keith Sciberras is Head of the Department of Art and Art History within the Faculty of Arts, University of Malta. In 2005 he was received as an Andrew W. Mellon Senior Fellow in the Department of European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. In 2012 he was elected trustee of London-based Association of Art Historians. He has published extensively on Caravaggio, Roman Baroque sculpture and Italian Baroque painting and contributed to numerous international research projects and exhibitions. 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. He is currently curating the 2018-2020 Vancouver Biennale re-IMAGE-n. Between 2014 and 2017 he served as Deputy Director for Exhibitions and Programs/Chief Curator of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. He also curated many solo projects, organised museum debuts and coordinated exhibitions for renowned artists and museums. Uslip is also an advanced PhD candidate at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts where he is completing his dissertation Cady Noland and the Age of Reagan.
Brian Schembri, Musician
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. He has been guest conductor to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Orquestra Ciutat de Barcelona, Orchestre national du Capitole de Toulouse, Orchestre Nationale de France, the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de Lyon, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie, the Svetlanov State Symphony Orchestra and the Opera Hong Kong. Schembri has been awarded the Malta Cultural Award and the Medal for Service to the Republic.
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. 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, 2008), Galleria Continua (San Gimignano, 2010) and MACRO Museum (Rome, 2011). Works by Sassolino can be found in public and private collections including MART (Rovereto), 21c Museum Hotel (Louisville, Kentucky) Essl Sammlung (Vienna), UniCredit Private Banking (Turin), Fondazione Domus per l’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea (Verona) 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 PhD 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, Petroni has edited several academic essays, books and exhibition catalogues.
Esther Flury, Project Manager
Swiss born and New York based arts professional Esther Flury has over two decades of experience working with international artists. She produced and co-curated Christoph Schlingensief’s first exhibition project at the Venice Biennial, namely Church of Fear in the Arsenale and the Pole Sitting Contest in the Giardini. She initiated and managed art projects for RxArt, a non-profit 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. She 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 and edited the catalogue raisonné of Swiss artist Roman Signer. Flury is also a contributing writer for international art journals, newspapers and exhibition catalogues.
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