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A Gallery With An Edge.

An edge. A literal one. A space that comes to a sharp point, guiding the eyes steadily and leading it to a tight corner. This is perhaps the pivotal characteristic heightening the most recently opened gallery, in the heart an ever-busy Sliema.

The patterned cement tiles and the clean, white-washed walls, the perfect backdrop and counterbalance to an otherwise, neutral space.

Jo Borg Gallery opened its doors a mere weeks ago. Launching with a dual exhibition by gallery owner, and visual artist Joyce Camilleri, together with painter and sculptor, Anton Grech. Their untitled show has a quiet strength, a punch, that is rare to encounter. This gallery possesses a mood, a vibe which is hard to decipher, let alone break down into intelligible jargon. The works on show – despite their apparent contrast – completely complementary. A marriage of sorts, wherein chromatic and textural qualities dance, hand in hand. 

The exhibition is sparse, yet hardly minimal. The patterned cement tiles and the clean, white-washed walls, the perfect backdrop and counterbalance to an otherwise, neutral space. Both Joyce and Anton show several works in this inaugural show, some of which have already been exhibited elsewhere, under a different ‘guise’ and vestige. 

What hits viewers on entering the gallery is a large, suspended work on paper, which Joyce executed as part of her Ochra et Nigreos art residency at MUZA, in 2021. The piece is somewhat somber yet immediately captivating, whether the subject deals with undulating waves or rolling mountaintops, remains deliciously unintelligible. It sits (un)comfortably, between earth and sky. It is also, in perfect balance to Anton’s piece de resistance – Ares – the god of war, the spirit of battle. A piece that has crossed oceans over the years and which has been exhibited under different titles and in various contexts, and which has been re-christened specifically to reflect upon the present precarious moment which shall undoubtedly go down in history. Ares, is the artist’s reply to the destruction that is befalling us all, yet also poignantly an homage to all the present-day fallen warriors in both Ukraine and Gaza. 

It took the best part of 24 months to transform and launch this gallery. Punctuated by interconnected rooms, the inverted-U-shaped space, leads the visitor from the entrance into ‘the edge’, where Ares sits, in silo, lifelessly facing out onto the busy street through a wall of glass. The structure of the space, its bones and history, dictated its present future. 

Well ahead of the October gallery launch, Joyce knew she wanted to create a space upon which she could build a legacy. She chose to name it, Jo Borg Gallery: ultimately, the name Jo(e) Borg, represents the (Maltese) everyman; thus, it was conceived as a space where primarily Maltese and Malta-based contemporary artists could show their work and engage with peers. 

This is not to say that international artists will not be showcased in her space, far from it. In fact, she is already in talks with two painters, abroad, to exhibit in the gallery coming March 2024. The intention was also for the gallery’s second show to purposely coincide with the launch of the first Malta Biennale, which is already generating ripples, and with several arts and cultural organisations devising their programming around the two-month plus, event.

A gallery with a most specific name, and an exhibition that lacks one. Apart from exhibitions containing the name of an artist as a title, with the word retrospective almost consistently in succession, it is rare to have an exhibition with no name. Almost abstract in concept. The work on show is, however, clearly distinguished by its materiality, within an environment where the current idiom is overtly digital, virtual, immaterial. This was a conscious decision, made in tandem by both Joyce and Anton, as it is, perhaps the strongest principle binding their work together. Joyce adds how, “We purposely chose no title for the show; we didn’t want to create any expectation by adding a title. We wanted it to be solely about the work: about the sculpture and about the painting. Our artistic practice is a concept in itself, we didn’t need to iterate it with a show title.” 

Jo Borg Gallery will host four exhibitions annually: every project lasting some three months. The lengthy duration is purposeful, in that it allows for alternative programming and ancillary events to take place around the show in a structured, rather than concentrated manner. Furthermore, Joyce explains how she wants to be able to “connect with the artist and their work; that is the process by which I shall select artists to show in the gallery. It will be a negotiation between myself and the artists, and striking a balance between our aesthetics. Moreover, the work of artists has to be consistent; it needs to show direction. The artistic journey together with a sense of authenticity needs to transpire. In other words, the extrinsic and the intrinsic must be combined.”

“By artists; for artists.” This should be the most celebrated concept surrounding this gallery, and venture, as a whole, concludes Joyce. “The space is there to ‘serve’ the artwork, just like our houses are there to serve us.”

Jo Borg Gallery can be found at 281a, Manwel Dimech Street, Sliema.

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