Cultural identity explored in a retrospective exhibition

transparency is an exhibition of works created by Maltese artist Enrique Tabone between 2010 and 2020. Joseph Agius met curator Toni Sant after the exhibition opened.

JA: What led you to curate this exhibition by Enrique Tabone?

TS: I discovered the work of Enrique Tabone for the first time in 2010. His installation Dazzle Escape was exhibited with the works of five other women: Elisa von Brockdorff, Romina Delia, the late Jasmina Relijc, Teresa Sciberras and Christine X. Although this was only 12 years ago, it is important to note that this approach was rather unusual in Malta at that time. time.

I also followed the mini-controversy around his installation Souvenir at the launch of the Strada Stretta Splendid Lounge, where his art was misidentified as an aborted fetus. Soon after, I became aware of his seated sculpture red leafwhich is permanently installed in the Sculpture Garden in the park of the Verdala Palace.

However, the work that really made me want to get to know this artist the way I do now was Mewwegwhich was commissioned by the Valletta 2018 Foundation for BirguFest 2014.

At that time, I became artistic director of Malta’s National Center for Creativity, Spazju Kreattiv. As part of the VIVA (Valletta International Visual Arts) festival in 2017, we commissioned another large-scale piece from Tabone titled Naħla. After substantial setbacks with its installation as planned, the work ended up being accidentally destroyed in transit to the Malta Society of Arts. This led to a new working relationship between me and the artist.

The wings recovered from Naħla is part of the Spazju Kreattiv permanent art collection. We have displayed them majestically as part of an Art+Feminism 2019 exhibition featuring all the works of women artists in this collection. It was during this exhibition that we began to discuss the need to exhibit Tabone’s works in different contexts.

I find his keen sense of political commentary as dynamic as the specialized use of materials for his works.

JA: As the exhibition is called transparency, it is easy to assume that it is the plexiglass at the heart of most of the works created by this artist. However, you are clearly inferring more than aesthetic commentary through this title. How do you extend this idea as the theme of the exhibition beyond the transparent material that the artist employs so prolifically?

‘Ġānbēi’ was created after the artist visited Guizhou Province in China. Photo: Jean-Marc Zerafa

TS: All the works in this exhibition share two common elements: they all involve transparent media and explore aspects of cultural identity. The exploration of identity covers a range of themes from stereotypes of presumed Maltese iconography to statements of personal identity, including cross-cultural identities. It is on this last aspect that the China Cultural Center came to collaborate on this exhibition, following the artist’s residency in Guizhou a few years ago.

“All the works in this exhibition share two common elements: they all involve transparent media and explore aspects of cultural identity” – Toni Sant

In his Poetics of relationship, Edouard Glissant evokes the right to opacity. This idea drives the interplay between transparency and opacity from personal identity politics to the power games of the political class favoring opacity over transparency. In Malta, this resonates very clearly, for example, in the financial affairs surrounding political party broadcast channels, among other transparency horrors. Again, this extends far beyond Malta as well, in all sorts of ways too, of course.

I don’t want to give too much extra meaning to the artist’s work. Tabone’s work is often difficult to classify, even before approaching it more closely beyond the material objects that the artist presents to us.

JA: Why do you think Tabone’s work is difficult to categorize?

'OM' – exhibited at the 2019 Ostral Contemporary Art Biennale in Dresden, Germany.  Private collection‘OM’ – exhibited at the 2019 Ostral Contemporary Art Biennial in Dresden, Germany. Private collection

TS: In 2019, I took part in the selection of works by 10 Maltese artists at the Ostral Biennial of Contemporary Art in Dresden, Germany. To be frank, I was quite disappointed with the gender gap in the list of Maltese artists who made it into the final selection.

I wanted to continue to actively address this, which is why I invited Tabone and a number of other Maltese female artists to work with me to bridge the gender gap in the local art scene. To be fair, things aren’t half as bad as they were just 10 years ago. Again, whenever it comes to institutional representation in Malta, there is always an apparent male predominance. Fortunately, a new generation of artists and curators finally seems to be taking us beyond a male-dominated art scene.

Besides the gender politics, the fact that Tabone is not a painter, videographer, or someone who produces works that can easily be hung on the wall, if not bought and sold like a commodity, makes her more difficult to exhibit easily and without precaution. consideration. She herself is very aware of this.

Enrique Tabone is best known for creating unique wearable works of art, such as this Enrique Tabone is best known for creating unique wearable works of art, such as this “intangible” neck piece. Photo: Kris Micallef

This is also evident in the two professional identities under which she operates. Tabone is both an artist of large-scale installations and delicate works of art in transparent plexiglass as well as the founder of the QUE Design Studio and the QUEstijl brand producing wearable art and ornaments.

Alongside the works of art produced by Tabone, there is also an impressive range of wearable art objects that she has produced through her design studio QUE over the past decade. Discerning people are able to appreciate the fact that they can wear works of art produced by the same artist who makes plexiglass objects intended for display in artistic contexts. Yet, it is essential to note that, although the two approaches are related, they relate to different ways in which she creates body ornaments or commentaries on the world in which we live.

“Where Flowers Bloom So Does Hope” showcases a rare use of color in Tabone's work, following the overwhelming presence of red observed during the artist's visit to China.  Photo: Jean-Marc Zerafa‘Where Flowers Bloom So Does Hope’ showcases a rare use of color in Tabone’s work, following the overwhelming presence of red observed during the artist’s visit to China. Photo: Jean-Marc Zerafa

For the most part, it’s easy enough to tell the two apart while maintaining an aura of continuity, both stylistically and aesthetically.

The artist's torso modeled in plexiglass for the upcoming exhibition 'Pre-storjha'.  Photo: Jean-Marc ZerafaThe artist’s torso modeled in plexiglass for the upcoming exhibition ‘Pre-storjha’. Photo: Jean-Marc Zerafa

JA: What are you preparing for the next Enrique Tabone exhibition?

TS: Spazju Kreattiv will present its next major exhibition in March 2023. Pre-storjha expands on the initial explorations that Tabone presented in the Pre-Herstory series during the 2020 edition of Art+Feminism. It is essentially a feminist reimagining of female figures in prehistoric remains. Collaborators include Cambridge-based archaeologist Isabelle Vella Gregory and fellow artist Alex Attard. This project will lead to the publication of a catalog raisonné of Tabone art, with particular emphasis on new works created for Pre-storjhawhich will be released in a limited edition by Kite Group.

The exhibition transparency is hosted by the Institute of Maltese Studies at the Valletta Campus of the University of Malta until Saturday, in collaboration with Spazju Kreattiv and the China Cultural Center – Malta. To learn more about the art of Enrique Tabone, visit www.enriquetabone.com.

Self-portrait presented by the play of indelible ink on layered Plexiglas discs.  Photo: courtesy of the artistSelf-portrait presented by the play of indelible ink on layered Plexiglas discs. Photo: courtesy of the artist

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James C. Tibbs