The Malta Independent 18 June 2024, Tuesday
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That other place: solo exhibition by Raphael Vella

Sunday, 17 September 2023, 08:50 Last update: about 10 months ago

Written by Maren Richter

The ancient Greeks used the word barbarians to categorise "the others", the non-citizens. The concept of "the other" - the ones outside - has been widely reflected upon in Western philosophy, political theories and systems. Psychoanalyst and Dadaists' friend Jacques Lacan, for example, defines "the other" as the conventions of social life organised under the category of the law.

Raphael Vella's exhibition title That Other Place draws inspiration from Susan Sontag's "citizens of that other place" in her book, Illness as Metaphor. The other place refers to the kingdom of the ill, which she opposes to the kingdom of the well by exploring dehumanising myths and metaphors associated with the most infamous illnesses of modernity.


Over the years, artist, educator and researcher Vella has developed a unique and profound artistic language for voices and choices of resistance and a sense of agency and advocacy for "the other" by making reference to institutions and systems that have become dysfunctional in a dystopian world - in a context in which illness itself no longer holds a form of truth with respect to the subject, as we all experienced it in recent times on a planetary scale.

His artworks contrast illustrations lifted from historical medical, surgical and other books with imagery or texts related to political ideals and parliamentary models. The drawings, mixed media works and stop motion animations, presented in the exhibition at Valletta Contemporary, juxtapose political, architectural and medical narratives, challenging the idea that institutionalised political systems provide healing to people across a wide spectrum of identities. Crumbling architecture and cartographies or populist slogans meet collective amnesia and other social illnesses and suggest That Other Place should be recognised as a diverse and dynamic entity - an object of political love and social desire, a model for emulation and identification, an object of care and hospitality.

Vella opens up a complex debate on representation to indicate a different plot of how we could imagine forms of curing in cultural, institutional and discursive spaces that are disruptive, unruly, intense, incompatible, contradictory or transforming.

This exhibition is  being held at Valletta Contemporary at 15, 16, 17, East Street, Valletta and runs until 28 October

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