The Malta Society of Arts (MSA) has awarded its prestigious Gold Medal to artist Austin Camilleri, in recognition of his exceptional artistic achievement in the contemporary local and international visual arts scene. A prominent figure in Malta’s art landscape for more than 25 years, Camilleri has showcased his work extensively in solo and group exhibitions across museums, biennales, private galleries, and public spaces in Europe, America, North Africa, and Asia.
The Gold Medal and its accompanying certificate were awarded to Camilleri during a private ceremony held at Palazzo de La Salle, the seat of the Malta Society of Arts in Valletta, in the presence of President George Vella and other distinguished guests.
The ceremony commenced with a statement by MSA’s President architect Adrian Mamo, who highlighted significant moments from Camilleri’s prolific career. Mamo underscored the historical context by noting that the first Gold Medal bestowed by the Malta Society of Arts dates back to 1896, honouring Emidio Vassallo for his achievements in metal engraving. Now, visual artist Austin Camilleri takes his place among esteemed past Gold Medal recipients, a distinguished list that includes luminaries such as Sir Temi Zammit (1904), Robert Caruana Dingli (1916), Emvin Cremona (1963), Oreste Chircop (1997), Richard England (1984), Joseph Calleja (2007), Karmen Azzopardi (2009), Harry Alden (2013), and Carmine Lauri (2015), among others.
The evening unfolded with a heartfelt reflection from one of Camilleri’s intimate friends, Jimmy Vella. Vella commenced by acknowledging the challenge of encapsulating the vibrant and adventurous spirit of Austin within mere words. Describing Camilleri as an avid traveller, ardent sports enthusiast, theatre-lover and set designer, foodie and bon vivant, Vella painted a multifaceted portrait of a loyal friend and a fervent artist, highlighting an array of his remarkable qualities.
Following that, Sandro Debono took on the unenviable task of providing a concise overview of Camilleri’s prolific artistic journey and accomplishments. Debono’s presentation delved into three key facets of Camilleri’s artistic identity. Firstly, he explored the theme of ‘renewal’ in Austin’s versatile work, showcasing the concept of ‘destructive creativity’ through Camilleri’s painting over previous works. Secondly, the presentation highlighted the depth of Camilleri’s reflections and his use of Malta as both his creative space and canvas, notably exemplified in Disgħa, where Camilleri etched poignant poetry onto rock formations. Lastly, Debono shed light on Camilleri as a social voice, vividly portrayed in works like ‘Żieme,’ a three-legged horse sculpture designed as a statement about the fragility of power. To conclude, Debono asserted that in Malta, only a select few artists possess a national dimension to their work, with Camilleri standing prominently among them.
MSA President Mamo then invited President George Vella to the stage to bestow the Gold Medal and accompanying certificate upon Austin Camilleri. President Vella took to the podium to congratulate Camilleri and commend the MSA for honouring and acknowledging the invaluable contributions of artists in the cultural and artistic domains. He remarked: “With the contribution of the Malta Society of Arts, together with other institutions, our country can continue to support creative thinking and artistic expression that leads to renewal, the support of critical thinking, and innovation. The official recognition by the Malta Society of Arts should spur the chosen artists to work harder to make the best use of their talents, and thus continue to enrich the Maltese artistic and cultural field.”
Post-ceremony, Camilleri shared his sentiments, stating: “I am humbled and sincerely grateful to the Board for bestowing upon me such a prestigious award. I have used gold in my artwork many times, appreciating its reflective qualities.
“Yet, I wish to extend this honour to the true lights in my life: those who believed in me, inspired me, those who challenged me, along with all my collaborators, my true friends, and, above all, my family,” he concluded.
The evening was enriched with musical interludes by musicians maestro Dominic Galea on piano and Angie Vella Zarb on vocals. This polished duo captivated the audience with their beautiful interpretations of classic pieces such as Gershwin’s Summertime, Jobim’s One Note Samba, and Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns.
To mark this special occasion, the Malta Society of Arts is exhibiting one of Austin’s important works in the Chapel located within its Palazzo de La Salle – Kuruna, created in 2002. The work is part of the National Collection, MUŻA – Heritage Malta and was loaned to the MSA to celebrate Austin’s outstanding achievements in this sector. Visitors can see Kuruna until this evening at 7pm and admission is free.