The Malta Independent 20 September 2020, Sunday

Artsing About: How MSA’s Artists Reacted to Lockdown

Wednesday, 5 August 2020, 10:31 Last update: about 3 months ago

The Malta Society of Arts spoke to a number of artists who had previously exhibited at its Art Galleries to share what went through their minds during the long months of lockdown, and how those feelings manifested themselves in their work.

In March, the whole world went into lockdown, including Malta's oldest arts organisation, the Malta Society of Arts (MSA). Despite having to 'pause' the exhibition 'Memories from Mars' by Lucio Dubini at its state-of-the-art galleries in Valletta's Palazzo de La Salle, the Society made sure to keep in touch with its public by engaging with some of the artists who had previously exhibited at the MSA through an initiative called Artsing About.

The Society invited artists to share their experience of the pandemic, both personal ones and in terms of their work. Unsurprisingly, the response was diverse and variegated, but ultimately very human. Their feelings and reactions reflected those of countless others who experienced a similar rollercoaster of lockdown-induced emotions.


Artist Karen Caruana, whose 'Vernacular' was exhibited at the MSA in May 2018, noted that being locked down indoors for long hours was already part of her routine for years working as a full-time artist. "However, quarantine and its related worries did suspend my productivity for a few weeks," she muses. "Eventually, I started getting my head around this strange time, catching up gradually, and preparing new material that will probably make it to my next solo exhibition." Some themes to be expected in her new work include the process of pushing one's self to heal or break - or to just stop pushing altogether - and also acknowledging when it's time to seek outside help.

Similar feelings of initial shock were experienced by artist Alex Dalli who exhibited at the MSA in July 2019 with 'Preżenza'. Alex commented that until he came to terms with the situation, he closed himself off to the world: "After a while, I started creating a lot of paintings and actually feeling that this was also a great time which offered me a well of expressions from where to extract inspiration. What I wanted to transmit was a strong feeling of 'mess'. Beauty in simplicity. This is a mine of emotions and I'm painting every thought."

While lockdown slowed down many people's lives, this was not necessarily seen as a bad thing for most. A majority of artists saw this increase in time spent indoors as a golden opportunity to experiment in ways they had never had the time to do before.

Artist Anna Galea, who exhibited at the Malta Society of Arts in February 2020 with 'STILL STILLS', spent lockdown in her home in Dubai. Like Karen and Alex, she initially felt numb. "Everything was so surreal, worrying, and depressing," she recalls. "But after the first week, I began focussing on my work more than ever before. Although I'd been into abstracts for some time, I had more time to let go and push boundaries, so I tried out more experiments - at least one painting a day - without giving a thought on whether they would end up in the bin or not."

Experimentation led to new discoveries for artist Francesca Balzan, who had exhibited at the MSA in December 2019 as part of the collective exhibition 'Xebgħa Nies 2 - The Human Clay'. "I found having no commissions to work on liberating, so I experimented more with clay and porcelain, shaping intuitively, and just letting the material take me where it wanted," says Francesca of her time in lockdown. "I started exploring the idea of the ruin, the fragment, the discarded. This has all been very freeing for my practice and hopefully will push me in a different direction. You need time for this sort of open-ended experimentation and Covid-19 handed us the unexpected gift of time, and did my best to use it well."

Artist Violet Kulewska, who exhibited at MSA in February 2018 in a show called 'Embedded', has also been using this time to create more art than ever, but not without feelings of guilt. "This period made me feel very connected to everything else that's going on outside," she says. "People are dying, critical resources are stretched, the very essence of our freedom is shrinking. Even though I've kept myself busy painting in my studio during this lockdown, concentrating on my own projects feels selfish and unimportant." Despite this, Violet made it a point to paint every day, from early morning till late evening undistracted by other jobs she's usually doing outside of her painting practice.


It is likely that the Artsing About will lead the viewer to experience the pandemic again, this time through the eyes of these myriad artists. And even though the long-term effects of Covid-19 are still uncertain, what's indisputable is that these and other artists' work will serve as an enduring, possibly painful legacy of these weird months we have all experienced.  


The experiences of each of these artists can be found on The Malta Society of Arts' Facebook page. The MSA invites other artists to send their experiences of lockdown, also to be shared on their Facebook Page. Please get in touch via email on [email protected]



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