The Malta Independent 30 May 2020, Saturday

Regaining a lost paradise

Sunday, 1 March 2020, 08:00 Last update: about 4 months ago

Professor Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci, artistic director of the APS Mdina Cathedral Contemporary Art Biennale shares his thoughts about this year’s edition and the big questions its exhibits will be trying to answer

The Mdina Cathedral Museum will once again be home to the APS Mdina Cathedral Contemporary Art Biennale and this edition's title will be Regaining a paradise lost: the role of the arts. The theme is particularly apt at a time when the environment and its destruction at the hands of the human race are one of the most pressing issues the world over.

The APS Mdina Biennale is an ongoing project, which recently grew to include international artists and Professor Schembri Bonaci, associate professor at the University of Malta, will once again be its artistic director. "Every edition's theme connects with the theme of the previous one and a continuum is created via a category which unites all, which is spirituality," he says. "Spirituality is not narrowed down to a religious belief, whatever the belief. It transcends and unites all, believers and non-believers, and the only unanimous unity is found in having a spiritual bond with our existence."

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The big questions posed to all participating artists this year are how spirituality and its relationship to the environment can help humankind save its natural heritage, and the role of art and the artist in this debate. As explained by Prof. Schembri Bonaci, there is a continuation between the different editions of the APS Mdina Biennale, but this year the media used will be slightly different. "This time we are concentrating on digital-video projections and installation art," he says. This is no mean feat if one considers the venue of the exhibition, which houses other works of a more traditional Medieval and Baroque kind, like those of Dürer. "The challenges as an artistic director include the correct and valid juxtapositions not only between the works presented but also the relationship of these works with the actual space concerned, a space which is already 'inhabited' by other artistic presences. This is the beauty of such events."

Prof. Schembri Bonaci speaks highly of Rev. Dr Edgar Vella, curator of the Mdina Cathedral Museum. "Under Rev. Vella, better known as Dun Edgar, the museum has become a beautiful echo to the call 'let the children come to me'. And I am happy to feel that the Mdina Biennale participated in this transformation," he says of the recent restoration of the museum.

Going back to the theme of this year's Biennale, Prof. Schembri Bonaci believes that it is particularly significant that, although Malta is seeing its fair share of the destruction of nature due to its booming building industry, it was our country that first brought the concern about climate change to the attention of the United Nations. The concept of Common Heritage of Mankind, which is today enshrined in International Law, states that defined territorial areas and elements of humanity's common heritage should be protected from exploitation by individual nation states or corporations and looked after for future generations. "It was Malta that ushered in the UN upheaval relating to the climate concern," he points out. "Personally, I do find these 'utopian' initiatives as an incredible contribution coming from such a small island state. And I am quite happy to see these many international artists crowding themselves within the Mdina bastions amid such creative discussion."

As for the role of art and the artist in protecting humanity's heritage, Prof. Schembri Bonaci has mixed feelings. "One of my most favourite poets, W. H. Auden, wrote that 'all the verse I wrote... did not save a single Jew', whereas Ezra Pound believed in the actual poetic drive that can change humankind," he ponders. Whatever the case might be, each artist at the APS Mdina Biennale will be trying to answer these important questions through their work.

The APS Mdina Cathedral Contemporary Art Biennale runs from 13 March to 18 April at the Mdina Cathedral Museum. Opening hours are Monday to Saturday from 9.30am to 5pm. Tickets cost €5 for adults and €3.50 for students. Children under 12 years of age enter for free.

For more information visit the Facebook page 'The APS Mdina Cathedral Contemporary Art Biennale 2020' or the website www.mdinabiennale.com

 

 


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