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A look at Valletta 2018 from the outside

The Valletta 2018 Foundation promises an island-wide festa, but does that claim sustain a ‘European Capital of Culture’?

performance of Heba Amin

There is a German proverb that goes: ‘Wer Vieles bringt, wird Vielen etwas bringen’ (‘He who brings many things will bring something for many). This is the impression I get when I browse through the 228-page programme of Valletta 2018. The Foundation promises an island-wide festa with 400 events, and one year of celebrations, for everyone. Now if I have learnt anything, coming to Malta as a stranger, it is how the Maltese love a good party and fireworks. There is nothing wrong with that – but is it enough for a first-time European Capital of Culture?

The cultural highlights of the Maltese Islands do not come to mind when I tell friends and colleagues in the same sentence that I have found a place in which to live in Gozo. They question me about the corruption, the tax haven and the Caruana Galizia murder, of course. Let’s look aside: In 2019, the European contemporary art biennale Manifesta 12 will take place in Palermo. The international curators are working around a thematic cluster between tourism and mafia, archaeology and environmental protection, illegal immigration and rural exodus. Art can be a way of encountering your ghosts and while this is true for many artists, how does it sound to the V18-Committee?

The Austrian curator Maren Richter took the job to work out the major multi-site exhibition entitled Dal-Baħar MadwarhaThe Island is What the Sea Surrounds (10 March to 1 July). Richter promises more than 25 well-known international and local artists from 15 countries. She researches the rising sea levels, fleeting territories and the ‘commodification’ of land and water. She likes to rethink the relationship between the sea, the land – and us.

The artistic pieces will be distributed all over the island, with a base in the abandoned Pixkerija at Barriera Wharf of the 1930s. That sounds exciting to me: parallels to the Venice Arsenale come up. But l have to emphasise that I am particularly interested in talents from the islands and V18 should be their showcase.

A silver lining arises from artist-curator Raphael Vella, who is responsible for the collaborative ‘Archipelago’ project in the Old Examination Centre at Fort St Elmo. He asks: ‘Is an island a place one escapes to or escapes from?’ and ‘do emerging artists living in different islands have similar hopes and challenges?’ He called for entries and I hope that many Maltese have responded.

Maren Richter has already worked as a curator in the European Capital of Culture Linz 2009. I went to Linz09 and have to admit that what stays in my mind after 10 years is the spectacular and most successful ‘Höhenrausch’ (high-altitude euphoria), an exhibition of contemporary art on the roofs of the lovely Austrian city. After you had climbed down the ladders to the ground, you would walk into a poetic artistic fun-fair. Maybe the island-wide festa is not so bad after all (#bethefesta). And anyone who, on New Year’s Eve, thought that Valletta could have presented itself better will be reminded that no one is born a master. It will be Malta’s turn to promote a European City of Culture again – in 2031!

Gabriele Spiller is a Swiss-German author and journalist who lives between Berlin and Gozo. She looks forward to playing a part in promoting Malta’s emerging art scene.

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