Fragments of a Legacy: The Malta Society of Arts, 1923-2023 opens tomorrow, September 14 at Palazzo de la Salle, Valletta. It features works by 20 artists from the past 100 years, ranging from giants such as Anton Inglott, Frank Portelli and Emvin Cremona, to contemporary artists such as Aaron Bezzina and Matthew Attard. The show will also include material from the Malta Society of Arts’ (MSA) archives which span back to 1852, including catalogues from groundbreaking exhibitions and other documents which shed light on particular moments of the MSA’s long history.
Fragments of a Legacy is an MSA initiative and forms part of the celebrations commemorating the Society’s 100 years at Palazzo de La Salle. Over this past century, the Society has been intimately involved with the development of the cultural field in Malta: it has consistently supported artists, musicians, and craftspeople in their tuition, it has often financed their studies, offered space for concerts and exhibitions, and provided opportunities for artists to exert influence on the international cultural scene via their involvement in the Society.
Over time, the Society has accumulated an archive and art collection that are testament to its deep involvement in the cultural world, in all its aspects. The MSA has not been immune to the workings of history. New research has shown that while also supporting and encouraging artists, the Society has held a conservative position that sometimes worked to suppress groundbreaking art, indirectly held women back from positions of power and rejected artworks which later came to be recognised as masterworks of Maltese Modern art. That said, across the history of the Society there has always been a progressive energy, fuelled by the artists working within the institution, that has provided a counterpoint to the more conservative elements within the MSA and worked to keep the institution contemporary. This exhibition is an attempt to acknowledge this narrative and take ownership of a complicated past.
This exhibition will dig into the MSA’s permanent collection, its archive, and loans from private collections, in order to put the past 100 years of its artistic history on display, with the aim of reconsidering the past in light of the present, and using moments of controversy, importance, strife or great merit as fragments to string together a refreshed understanding of the Society’s role today.
The exhibition, featuring paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations, and archival material, is organised across five galleries, each representing twenty years of history and each telling a particular story. The works in each room were chosen to build a narrative and illustrate a particular fragment of history, memory, and therefore also identity. The artists represented all have a connection with the MSA: they’ve all either participated in MSA exhibitions, contributed to MSA projects in the past, been supported by the MSA or they have been involved with the MSA committee.
Steering the MSA’s transformation as an institution and as a leading space for arts and cultural initiatives, was Arch. Adrian Mamo, who has been the MSA’s President since 2015. “The exhibition takes the Society’s art collection as its starting point, while also delving into its archive (spanning back to 1852) to map out the complex story of a conservative institution that still managed to maintain a position at the cutting edge of the avant-garde,” he comments. “Fragments of a Legacy traces the nuanced push and pull of historical forces coming in touch with individual lives, which then manifested through this dynamic institution. The influence of the Society on the development of Maltese cultural topology can hardly be understated.
“This project has been a huge collaborative effort involving dozens of individuals: contributors, lenders, and members of the MSA who have worked tirelessly to put up this exhibition, which is a fitting tribute to all the artists, craftsmen and individuals who strove to keep the Society alive for the past 170 years,” Mamo concluded.
The research which led to the development of Fragments of a Legacy is centralised and collected in the MSA’s recent publication titled Palazzo de La Salle, Genesis and Evolution published by Midsea books and The Malta Society of Arts, and available at selected Agenda bookshops.
Fragments of a Legacy: The Malta Society of Arts, 1923-2023 runs until October 7 at the Art Galleries of the Malta Society of Arts, Palazzo de La Salle, 219, Republic Street, Valletta. Entrance is free. For more details about the exhibition and opening hours, please visit www.artsmalta.org/events or www.facebook.com/maltasocietyofarts.