If you’re a contemporary art fan, aim your gaze at Malta in 2024. The country’s first-ever Biennale unfurls between March and May followed by an October opening of the highly anticipated Malta International Contemporary Art Space (MICAS), another first for the island nation. Using its Natural beauty along with a treasure trove of cultural and historic sites as a backdrop, Malta and contemporary art will no doubt steal the travel show next year.
Contemporary Art and Culture Collide
The Maltese Islands are small, so it’s no surprise that heritage and culture often intermingle with events and new openings.
Take Strait Street (Strada Stretta in Maltese) in Valletta, for example.For centuries it was a street for sword fights and armed duels and further deteriorated into a street lined with brothels. Simultaneously it was also renowned for having Valletta’s best restaurants and the location of the best music halls for nights of singing and dancing. (Of course, no reputable Maltese person would admit having eaten or been entertained there in the district).
Similarly, Floriana’s Balzunetta district, just outside of Valletta, also has a fascinating history, first as a gunpowder factory in the heart of highly populated Valletta for the Knights of St John of Jerusalem. But in 1634, the factory exploded, killing 22 people and damaging a nearby church.
New premises were rebuilt on barren land in 1665 in Floriana, which overlooks Marsamxett Harbour. In 1667 the factory had three windmills for the grinding and manufacturing of gunpowder, but by 1730, the manufacturing process had been taken over by private entrepreneurs, and the building fell empty.
Grandmaster Antonio Manoel de Vilhena reacted by enforcing the original function of the Order of St John for hospitaliering. The building’s vaults were converted to host a state-run institution for the care of the elderly and the infirm and became known as “The Ospizio” (The Hospital). The building went on to host 380 residents and later included reformed prostitutes and those suffering mental problems.
Although the Ospizio was hit several times during German and Italian aerial bombing, all came to an end at the termination of World War II. Today Floriana is a highly reputable area with a beautiful public garden and houses the Malta Police General Headquarters.
In 1997, the Malta International Contemporary Art Space known as MICAS was allocated the San Salvatore Bastions, which comprises the Ospizio , and its offices were finally fully moved there in 2017. Earlier this year, contemporary art fans were invited to the museum campus between 27 and 29 October during the MICAS International Art Weekend to welcome the inaugural permanent display by the celebrated artist and London-born sculptor Conrad Shawcross, on the theme “What is to Become is Already Here”.
The exhibit is now open to public viewing by appointment at MICAS.
An elated Shawcross said in a statement, “I am honoured to be the first artist to exhibit at the new MICAS campus. My theme chosen alludes to the harkening of things to come. MICAS will celebrate its new contemporary setting in an environment of historic fortifications and having witnessed the most breathtaking of histories”.
When MICAS finally opens in October 2024, it will not only become a showcase for local contemporary artists but will also engage with international institutions to present groundbreaking works by acclaimed artists from all over the world.
Contemporary Art in Malta and Gozo 2024
The year 2024 will be big for Malta and Gozo, combining old and historic buildings with the latest in contemporary arts.
Before October 2024 official opening of MICAS, Malta will be holding its first-ever Biennale, an international event to which 12 countries have been accepted from all over the world and scores of stands will be erected throughout Malta and Gozo.
Contemporary artists, sculptors, designers, photographers, and fans can’t miss these events, representing the modern world of art in Malta’s magnificent historic and cultural settings.
BeSeeingYou In: Malta and Gozo
Good To Know: MICAS will overlook Marsamxett Harbour, within the ruins of San Salvatore Bastion (whose ramparts date back to the Order of Saint John)
WOW! Factor: Two firsts in 2024 cement Malta’s status as a key player on the contemporary art circuit
Tip: Contact the organisations and book early if you plan to visit. Dense crowds are expected
Author bio: Albert Fenech