Three alternatives for the Valletta entrance

This morning Malta woke up to the news that the entrance of Valletta will be adorned with a sculpture of four knights commemorating the Knights of Malta.

bronzeknights1 To many, this was a bucketful of ice in the middle of summer, especially since news arrived only after a few days of the unveiling of Austin Camilleri’s beautiful piece of art ‘Żieme’ (currently the centrepiece of VIVA – the Valletta International Visual Arts festival). Culture Minister Owen Bonnici praised Camilleri’s art and many breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe, with Bonnici at the helm of culture, Malta can start expecting something other than the usual brass knights and historical figures being erected at every empty corner in the hope of embellishment and a nod to Malta’s past.

Turns out it was all a bubble of hope which was quickly burst when the MEPA notice for the Knights’ sculpture was issued. It does feel like the sculpture was commissioned without taking any notice of the current designs and will be placed there ‘just because’.

Since ‘just because’ seems to be the modus operandi of filling up empty spaces in the Capital I thought I’d offer a few suggestions the Government can find on for the fraction of the price. Thoughtful right?

Sottospecchio Nothing screams entrance hall more than the good old sottospecchio. In certain instances it can also come complete with a free haunting for all those special guests who enter Valletta. 3576611_1

Tork tat-Taraġ Statues who to this day still feel incredibly racist and still terrify children everywhere, the Torok tat-Taraġ would be a great addition to the entrance of Valletta. Afterall, like the Knights, the Turks too dipped their invading thumbs into Malta. 3576895_1

Par Vażuni Antiki Because, why the hell not? These are the pride and glory for many homes in Malta. Antique vases whose purpose is to never hold any flowers have been the rage for decades now. 3574271_1

Do you have any other suggestions? If you do, simply share your thoughts below.

Graffiti in Valletta – is this Art or Vandalism?

picture taken by Michelle Buhagiar

picture taken by Michelle Buhagiar

This morning graffiti have been painted on the still-to-be-finished grand Valletta entrance. Seeing the picture on Facebook I thought it looked good and not having read what it was about I had this impression that this wasn’t Malta.

From that first glance I thought it was a minimalist art installation in some foreign capital. I mentally bookmarked and continued scrolling on my merry way until I saw the news item crop up on The Times that is.

I curiously clicked the link and the news item was all about this ‘vandal’ who defaced the Valletta entrance way. And then the dilemma struck me. Is this Art or Vandalism?

The picture taken of the graffiti is beautiful (kudos to the photographer, whom I understand is very much against the graffiti) which makes it very hard to condone as wrong. But aside from the aesthetic qualities, this raises some questions;

Was this simple self expression or was the artist trying to make a statement?

After all this happened only a few days after the issue of Pjazza Teatru Rjal and its inaccessibility to artists, even when this space was promised to be the people’s theater. Was the artist trying to address the lack of space for arts and culture in Malta? Needless to say the location of the graffiti is very apt, considering Valletta is meant to be the European Capital of Culture in 2018 and yet we still do not have a museum of modern art or any decent space for smaller artists and performers to meet, organise exhibitions, collaborate, etc.

Looking at the photo it is immediately noticeable that these aren’t the usual thug, half arsed graffiti. There is heart and thought behind it. What is depicted is a positive image, an image of love. It’s minimalist in nature and from the view of this photo it almost compliments Renzo Piano’s vision.

The more I look at the photo the more thorn I feel inside. I understand that it IS wrong for graffiti to be painted on newly finished works. The Valletta entrance already has a vision and unfortunately outside art installations such as this one aren’t part of it. But this painting does raise a lot of questions, and ones which need to be addressed quickly. In a capital city which is dead in the middle of the night and is meant to play such an important role in 2018 there is a lot to be done, and extra carnivals and festi will simply not do.

So here I am, more confused than when I started writing this; is this art or vandalism? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments section below.

Pjazza Teatru Rjal; an unkept promise?

My morning reading today consisted of a thread on Facebook between Mario Vella, front man of the Maltese band Brikkuni and Martin Bonnici, local independent film producer at Shadeena Films. The thread was about the inaccessibility to independent local artists to use the newly inaugurated Pjazza Teatru Rjal in Valletta.

From what Mario said, it seems that place can be booked for €2000 a night but other costs, which also includes insuring the venue (which is valued at over 3 million euros) and security will inflate the bill to at least €4000. So how can a local artist, be it a band, a theater company or a literary performer ever dream of performing in an auditorium whose purpose, we were promised, was to promote and give a space to the local arts and culture scene?

Pjazza Teatru Rjal

Let’s do some simple arithmetic here. Malta’s population stands at around 410,000. Around 130,000 are under 15 and over 65 and would probably prefer other activities. That leaves a total of about 280,000 potential ‘customers’.

But here we are not talking about a Joseph Calleja or an Isle of MTV event which attracts thousands. These events which are considered to be huge only manage to attract around 20% of the population (Isle of MTV 2012), and these have a very good, well known brand, and they are free events with massive popular appeal and even bigger advertising.

There is a huge difference between these events and the smaller events, like Brikkuni’s, which attract niche audiences. But it is these small niche events that drive the underlying diversity in the arts and culture scene, and for which the Pjazza Teatru Rjal was intended to showcase.

Even with a well known, internationally respected niche performer such as the Kronos Quartet, who played at Pjazza Teatru Rjal as part of the 2013 Malta Arts Festival, the theater’s capacity (900 seats) wasn’t fully reached. So one starts to wonder; how can a local band attract enough people to make one of their performances financially viable?

For a band to break even with the quoted figure they would need to attract either;

800 people and sell tickets at €5 or

500 people and sell tickets at €8.

Those figures of course do not take into consideration any form of payment to the members of the band. There are no advertising or marketing costs included, no other fees such as a sound engineer etc.

The Kronos Quartet’s performance was charged at €25, and to me it was money well spent, but I doubt that I’d spend that kind of money to see a local band, no matter how good they are and no matter how much I would love to support the local scene. And I am sure I’m not the only one.

Clearly, something needs to be done to help local performers and artists. The government has already taken the first step by creating this space. But it is not enough. One way would be for the Pjazza Teatru Rjal Management to offer annual subscriptions of say €100 each which would entitle you to attend performances by local artists for free and those by international artists for a discounted price. This will in turn also encourage more people to attend events which they might normally pass up.

Pjazza Teatru Rjal is a beautiful space, and no matter how much ‘The Kitten from Malta’ jibes at it, it has a great potential for both local and international artistes, many of whom would also be attracted by the opportunity to perform in a space designed by Renzo Piano and enriched with all its history.

What is so offensive about laundry?

The guys over at Bay Easy decided to veer off what they do best (and by ‘what they do’ I really mean what they think they do), and comment about the state of affairs in Valletta.

They posted this photo and comment on their Facebook page;

Bay Easy comments about laundry in Valletta

“Is this still acceptable in the future European Capital of Culture? Pants and socks hang on a line IN THE STREET near Fort St Elmo in Valletta”

Of course the comments section soon filled up with badly written sentences and appallingly written words. Disgraceful, shameless, how awful, they all cried, but what is so offensive about laundry?

Malta is blessed with sun and gentle breezes, and on a beautiful day like today, yes you do your laundry and stick it outside to dry. If that so happens to be facing a street because there is no roof access then so be it, there is nothing offensive about laundry.

If Bay Easy wants to point their fingers and shame then why don’t they point at all those people who leave their car on, in the middle of the road, while they go to buy their ‘pakkett imsiemer’ (cigarettes), or those who think our roads are just one big landfill, or worse still those who drive their cars thinking they are an Ayrton Senna reincarnation?

That’s what’s offensive, not clean laundry hanging in the street, which is at the end of the day part of our culture and heritage. So yes, Bay Easy, this is still acceptable, even for the future European Capital of Culture, the beautiful Valletta.

>Art for Art’s Sake at No. 68


Following is a piece I wrote about No. 68 Gallery in Valletta for MaltaInsideOut
If you are passionate about the visual arts, you might find it hard to locate some of Malta’s talent, especially if what you’re looking for is modern or alternative forms of expression. St James Cavalier might be the place to start, but one, government-backed venue is not enough when it comes to the self expression of a whole country’s artists.
This is where the Valletta house, known simply as No. 68, comes in. The aim of No. 68 is to “host artistic and cultural events and to give exposure to artists, both emerging as well as established names”.
Located in secluded St Lucy’s Street, Valletta, this gem of an artistic venue is an old house, lovingly restored and brought back to life by Alexandra Pace, one of Malta’s foremost photographers. The house belonged to her grandparents, but for decades it lay unoccupied, until, in October 2008, Alexandra was looking for a special place to host her solo photographic exhibition. Now, No. 68 is a prime venue in what is fast-becoming one of Valletta’s hippest streets for the insider crowd.

What Alexandra has done is admirable; she made sure that the renovation mirrored the original structure and decor. Wall colours were kept the same, tiles were scrubbed down until their true beauty flourished, the wrought-iron fire places were brought back to life and a few pieces of old furniture were restored and now lie scattered around the house to remind everyone of the history of this magnificent place.

Probably the most alluring of all rooms in this four storey building is the ‘pink bathroom’, a symmetrical, spacious room with black hexagon tiles and pink fittings. The rest of the house has been left unfilled, but during exhibitions it is endowed with art and installations. The style screams minimalism, but it marries perfectly with the character of the house, in which old merges with new.
No. 68 also hosts Kinemastik, an alternative film club, which takes place every week in one of the larger rooms. These kind of initiatives prove that the No. 68 project has the potential to be the hub for a whole spectrum of visual arts.
No. 68 is an art gallery with a heart, and its own identity. Check No. 68’s blog for information about upcoming events. If you have the opportunity to visit No 68, I’m sure you won’t leave disappointed.