Malta Biennale Names 72 Artists for Inaugural ‘Insulaphilia’ Edition

Organizers of a new art biennale set to take place in the southern Mediterranean Island of Malta have named 72 artists from an estimated 30 countries that will participate in its inaugural edition, which is due to run next year from March 11 to May 31, with exhibitions set to take place across twelve historical sites in Maltese cities.

Established names like Cecilia Vicuña, Tania Bruguera, Laure Prouvost and Pedro Reyes will be among the participants.

The 72 artists will participate in the main exhibition of the Biennale, which is curated by Sofia Baldi Pighi, an independent Italian curator, who is temporarily based in Malta. The show centers around issues related to the Mediterranean more broadly, as detailed in her curatorial statement titled “Insulaphilia.” The concept refers to an obsession with islands and, Baldi Pighi told ARTnews, serves as a prompt for artists to reflect on Malta’s unique position at the crossroads of major surrounding regions and their histories. She has organized the main exhibition into four sections, each stemming from the themes laid out in “Insulaphilia”: regional issues, facets of decolonization, the political dimensions of the Mediterranean, and various forms of resistance.

Like many major art events in their first runs, the Malta Biennale has faced challenges associated with its location and timing. The organization of the debut edition, which has been two years in the making, takes place as geopolitics have become increasingly grim amid an ongoing war in the Middle East. Baldi Pighi said that the Biennale seeks to be a “safe place” for artists uprooted from conflict-torn regions to interrogate sensitive topics. The ethos extends not only to the artists participating in the show’s main thematic exhibition, but also to the eleven national pavilions flanking it—representing Austria, China, Franco-Germany, Italy, Malta, Palestine, Poland, Serbia, Spain, Turkey, and Ukraine.

Two artists, one Palestinian and another Ukrainian, will present solo exhibitions to represent their respective national pavilions (their names have not yet been disclosed, though Baldi Pighi confirmed the artists are currently located in Poland and Malta, respectively.) Organizers extended the invitation to host a pavilion recognizing Palestine in June, a move that Pighi notes preceded the Venice Biennale’s rejection of a Palestinian-affiliated museum’s proposal to mount a collateral event in association with the biennale’s 2024 edition. “It was very important to have Palestine among us,” the curator said.

In an email to ARTnews, Mario Cutajar, the president of Heritage Malta, a government agency overseeing culture that is co-organizing the biennale, emphasized the representation of those pavilions. “The biennale would not be relevant if it failed to discuss our present,” Cutajar said, adding that resolution-seeking “must be in itself an international endeavor.”

Baldi Pighi is explicit in her intent not to curate an exhibition replicating other biennales or importing displays that seem detached from the historical sites that will serve as backdrops and hosts to artworks. Throughout the show, particularly in the main exhibition, there will be a focus on artworks addressing current issues and capable of navigating a conservative climate in Malta, where a migrant crisis and strong restrictions on abortion rights have become top concerns for younger residents of the island. She emphasized the “soft power of culture involved in a biennale project,” as a consideration in organizing the event. Malta, she added, has only a few contemporary art spaces.

The biennale will also be host to artist collectives active in Europe. Among them is the Italian collective Post Disaster, a group that uses urban rooftops in Taranto, Southern Italy, as performative spaces to stage discussions about industrial-induced crises. For the biennale, the group’s members will mount a new site-specific installation at Fort Saint Elmo, a 16th century military site in the capital city of Valletta. That work will respond to Malta’s militarized architecture.

Some of the works set to be shown by higher-profile figures, among them Vicuña, Bruguera, Prouvost and Reyes, are already well-known in the U.S. and Europe. A 2018 work by Bruguera will be restaged on the façade of the 16th century Armoury building in Birgu, a town in Southeastern Malta that is walking distance from the biennale’s other locations. Reyes, who is Mexican, will exhibit work associated with his 2022 project “Artists Against the Bomb,” which combines artists’ calls against nuclear threats, on the nearby island of Gozo. Elsewhere, El Salvador–born, New York–based artist Guadalupe Maravilla will exhibit work inside of Valleta’s 17th century Ta-Pilar Church.

Pighi emphasized the strategic inclusion of internationally prominent voices like Bruguera, saying that her practice, rooted in research in migration, provides a protective layer for the exhibition’s discourse and mitigates the risk of censorship. In turn, she sees Bruguera and the recognition for some of her peers, as a safeguard for younger or lesser-known Maltese artists participating in the biennale.

Below is the full artist list for the 2023 Malta Biennale.

Alan Abd El Monim, Italian/Egyptian

Camilla Alberti, Italian

Anna Anderegg, Swiss

Teresa Antignani, Italian

Jean-Marie Appriou, French

Rosa Barba, Italian

Simon Benjamin, Jamaican

Laura Besançon, Maltese

Aaron Bezzina, Maltese

Rebecca Bonaci, Maltese

Josian Bonello, Maltese

Isabelle Borg, Maltese

Claude Borg, Maria Borg, Sumaya Ben Saad, Rebecca Mifsud, Maltese

Amy Bravo, American (USA)

Tania Bruguera, Cuban

Siwani Buhlebezwe, South African

Teresa Busuttil, Australian

Anna Calleja, Maltese

Austin Camilleri, Maltese

Edson Chagas, Angolan/Portuguese

Mel Chin, Chinese-American

Leo Chircop, Maltese

Dolphin Club, Maltese, French

Joseph Cochran II, American (USA)

Andrea Conte (Andreco), Italian

Gaia De Megni, Italian

Mònica de Miranda, Portuguese/ Angolan

Adama Delphine Fawundu, American (USA)

Zehra Doğan, Kurdish

 Dolphin Club, Maltese, French

Madeleine Fenwick, British

Andrea Ferrero, Peruvian

Martina, Romeo Roxman Georgina, Gatt, Maltese

Nina Gerada, Maltese

Sara, Eleonora Goldschmied, Chiari, Italian

Bettina Hutschek, German

Anne Immelé, French

Daniel Jablonski, Brazilian

Barbara Kapusta, Austrian

Dew Kim, South Korea

Konstantina Krikzoni, Greek

Wioletta Kulewska Akyel, Polish

Sara Leghissa, Italian

Ji Yeon Yaloo, PiaLim, Borg, Korean, Maltese-Australian

LuzLizarazo, Colombian

Edson Luli, Albanian

Basim Magdy, Swiss/Egyptian

Guadalupe Maravilla, El Salvadorian

Jermay Michael Gabriel, Italian

Karyn Olivier , American

Zazzaro Otto , Italian

Adrian Paci, Albanian

Post Disaster (Collective), Grazia Mappa, Gabriele Leo, Gabriella Mastrangelo, Peppe Frisino, Italian

Dijana Protić, Croatian

Laure Prouvost, French

Keit, Florinda, Neils Bonnici, Camilleri, Plotard (Prune Our Skin), Maltese, Maltese, French

Agnes Questionmark, Italian

Anna Raimondo, Italian

Pedro Reyes, Mexican

Cemile Sahin, Kurdish

Paul Sammut, British

Zineb Sedira, French/Algerian

Ana, Giuditta Shametaj, Vendrame, Italian/Albanian, Italian

Anthony Spagnol, Maltese

Tom Van Malderen, Belgian

Fabrizio Vatieri, Italian

Raphael Vella, Maltese

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