Malta to host first art biennale in 2024

/ New Delhi
Malta to host first  art biennale in 2024

Pighi says that an integral part of the biennial is to broaden the gaze and tell the power to a vision of female force inside the Mediterranean culture

The Mediterranean island nation of Malta will organise its first art biennale in first half of 2024. Conceived as a Mediterranean biennale, its inaugural edition comes with theme of ‘insular thinking’ that has drawn over 2,500 proposals by artists from 75 countries. The biennale will start from March 11 and continue through the month of May. Artistic Director Sofia Baldi Pighi tells India Outbound about the preparations for the biennale.
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How is the Maltese biennale different from other exhibitions? What makes it unique?

Malta boasts 7,223 years of civilisation. Thanks to Heritage Malta and the partnership with UNESCO, World International Heritage, many of the island’s cultural treasures will become the venues in which will unfold. The Central Pavillion, the National Pavillions and the Thematic Pavillions will take shape within the island’s most illustrious and evocative sites.

These sites, symbols of Maltese history and Mediterranean civilisation, are not mere locations for intervention. No urban environment, let alone a cultural treasure steeped in history, is ever neutral and silent. To envision new possible futures for the Mediterranean region, we must rekindle our affection for the places that constitute our history and diverse cultural identity. We hope that the artists’ vision will reveal an unwavering trust in individual and collective transformation.

What kind of participation are you expecting? is developing a public programme aimed at bringing contemporary art closer to the public. The focus is to ensure a comprehensive Art Education and Museum Strategy, designed to bridge the gap between contemporary art and a non-sector audience, fostering an inclusive and intergenerational approach. The programme will engage individuals of all ages, from children and teenagers to adults and senior citizens, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to appreciate and participate in Malta’s rich cultural heritage.

The initiative is driven by the understanding that currently, participation in cultural life and the enjoyment of cultural heritage requires extra special attention, to ensure that engagement and content is considered across the spectrum.

Being first biennale, is it a challenge or an opportunity for you?

Being the very first edition of a biennale means that we have a very wide imaginative space to work with. We have no tradition to bow to, as in the case of historical biennials. The is a commitment to breaking down barriers and creating a more inclusive and vibrant cultural scene. It aims to be a transformative initiative that not only showcases contemporary art but also empowers communities and individuals to become active participants in their own cultural heritage. The artworks will serve as an activating device for workshops, triggering inclusive processes of cultural fruition, allowing participants to explore their creative potential and connect with the works in a manner that is both visceral and personal.

How will this biennale boost tourism to Malta?

Here, the island presents itself as the origin of a new political conception. The island must be conceived not as a buffer between the interloper and its inhabitants, but intimately woven with the presence of so-called outsiders. If utopia can still be spoken of today, this is the desire – to centralise the position of the islands, in order to transform the political discourse.

With this biennial, we want to tell the story of an archipelago that goes beyond the dominant associations – that of a location to study English or a place with an extraordinary sea, for it is much more than that.

Malta is a palimpsest of culture, a result of its position and the role it has played throughout history, resulting in an island vibrant with hybrid cultural reference.

Malta is not one but many; multicultural, multiracial, multilingual. People sing in different languages, just as they think and dream in different languages. This is what positions Malta and its archipelago as an ideal observatory for examining prevalent aspects of Mediterranean culture—our perpetual migration, ancient feminine wisdom and constant engagement with postcolonial thought.


The sites chosen for the biennale are symbols of Maltese history represent the Mediterranean civilisation, says Artistic Director Pighi

Malta art biennale will coincide with spring festivities in Malta. Can you give us a glimpse into what the audience can expect?

During spring it’s Easter in Malta, a time of sacred procession and traditional festivities. The religious aspect is of great importance to the communities, where processions in the tradition of southern Europe can be witnessed across various towns and villages.

The figure of a woman, the Virgin Mary, is central to the Christian religion. Even today, Marian cults turn out to be far more numerous than any male saintly devotees. If, therefore, the female figure is central in a predominantly Catholic country like Malta, the biennial aims to broaden the gaze and tell the power to a vision of female force inside the Mediterranean culture. The question of the feminine is maternal (la mère), maritime (la mer, mother earth, the motherland where one is born and also emigrates from), and material (matrix, matter, materiality), via the extraordinary creativity of women who have inhabited Mediterranean shores. The explores the question of creativity, memory performative female community of the Mediterranean region.

What is the theme for this year? What does the UNESCO patronage signify?

The first edition of aims to examine the Mediterranean from an insular perspective; being surrounded by sea drastically alters one’s vantage point and response. The is conceived as a Mediterranean biennale that intends to investigate ‘insular thinking’, able to see the island not as a postcard utopia but as a delimitation that produces learning and encounters. Atlantis, Utopia, Robinson Crusoe’s island: throughout recorded history, islands have been considered the antithesis to the mainland, but French philosopher Gilles Deleuze proposes islands as containing the intensity of the world itself.

Far from being something pure, the island is always a principle of composition and invention. Through insular thinking, it becomes evident that the Mediterranean basin has two shores—it is both Southern Europe and Northern Africa, a meeting of Orient and Occident, a confluence of East and West. Entitled ‘white sea…’ (baħar abjad), employing the Semitic and Ottoman archaic definition of the Mediterranean, this inaugural edition seeks to evoke the manifold dimension of this body of water, with its perpetual meeting and clashing of cultures.

The Maltese biennial will be spread across the archipelago, with the capital Valletta, a UNESCO world heritage site, as its core. The neighbouring harbour cities of Birgu, Bormla and Senglea, as well as the neolithic temples in Gozo, are also included in the biennale map. Decentralising activities over the entire Maltese territory will permit the public to discover magnificent historic locations. UNESCO’s patronage is considered a high form of recognition for the biennale, which while still in its infancy, has already garnered a strong and encouraging global response from artists, and is clearly set to become the focal cultural event of 2024 in Malta.

What kind of participation are you expecting from India, both in terms of exhibitors and audiences?

Malta and India have a friendly history dating back to the very first years of the former’s independence. Indeed, despite their regional and cultural differences, the two countries share a common history of colonialisation, and today, both are Commonwealth members. There is also a shared passion for profound cultural connections, which is what this biennale intends to propose. We look forward to welcoming both creatives and audiences alike from India.

What is your expected footfall for this year?

Given that this is’s very first edition, predicting the scale of our audience is difficult. We are, however, working hard with our partners, including the Malta Tourism Authority, among others, to make sure our presence is made known to those who seek challenging and immersive artistic experiences globally.

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