Maltese Artists in London (2014) is an on-going project which began in response to an interview with Chris Gatt, published in The Times of Malta earlier this year. Mr Gatt stated how he is worried that Malta is losing many of its artists to places like London, and nothing is enticing them to move back. ‘Maltese Artists in London’ explores this matter through a series of portraits and clips of interviews with various Maltese artists living in London, who are pursuing art-related careers.
Daniela Attard; Illustrator
“I moved about a year and a half ago and I graduated last Janurary and I am now freelancing. I think I’m an illustrator but I dabble in a few disciplines of visual art. I have recently started working freelance but I’m also working towards snagging a dream job in visual development / concept art. In the meantime I’m always involved in a number of on going projects, self initiated or team based. I am a bit of a misfit myself and I knew I had to leave the island eventually. I became sure of this during my BA in Art History. One of the many reasons why I moved was because I wanted to work in the visual arts. Had I not moved I’d be a bit more comfortable financially but I’d be stuck in the same rut. I’ve found a lot of like minded individuals here, especially in the indie comics scene. Plus the several comic conventions have really helped me network! In Malta there are a few people who are professionals but I think many people are self declared artists who have never studied their craft before moving on to conceptual pieces. I also think that many are unable to process criticism … one of the most important things to learn and improve one’s craft. I think a good number of artists have left the island.I try to keep in contact with home but right now I’m more focused on the UK scene. I dont mind coming over for short projects every now and again.To be honest I dont see myself coming back permanently, mostly because I like where my career path is going right now”.
Cliff Zammit Stevens; Tenor
“I moved to London when I was 19, so that’s six years ago now. I’m in my final year of my Master’s and I have been working both in Malta and London. I had reached a certain level in Malta, where I couldn’t go any higher, if you know what I mean, especially with studies.. in Malta we don’t have music studies as such, and I wanted to be in an environment where I could live and breathe music. At the Royal College of Music I’m exposed to international directors, conductors, composers and we have an amazing huge library with all the opera scores one could ever need. It’s weird because my mentor and my original teacher are in Malta, they made me who I am. But back home we don’t have as many opportunities as we have here. In London there are things happening every single day; competitions, meeting people and networking. All that said though, I’ve also had great opportunities back home, performing major operas in Malta and Gozo and also performing alongside Joseph Calleja. Here I get the training which I couldn’t have gotten in Malta, vocally I could have with my mentors, but répétiteur-wise, no. They have a great insight into the music and they can teach you how to phrase certain pieces of the things you’ll be doing, there is a big lack of that in Malta. If you’re working on an opera, it’s one thing working on the vocal aspect of it, but not everyone can portray the right emotions or whatever the composer wanted in
a certain piece – that lacked a lot. Here I have language classes, performance classes. In the case of music, there are many varieties of music, and pop-lovers aren’t easily persuaded to go to an opera just like heavy metal lovers aren’t easily persuaded to go to the concert of a major pop artist. I’ve been doing a concert every year for five years now and it’s always been sold out and always grown. Me being an opera singer, well, it’s been a bit difficult to get a huge following but slowly slowly it’s growing. Thanks to Joseph Calleja the genre is more exposed too. Eventually I’d like to settle back in Malta yes, but it’s if I have a career; so if i’m successful and travelling around, once I have the career and connections.”.
Ann Dingli; Art Critic
“I moved in September 2011, so I’ve been here just over two years. I work here now; I moved here to study, to do a postgrad. I work at an architecture firm in PR and marketing, but my background is art history and design criticism and I write about art, architecture and design on my own time. I left Malta for a lot of reasons, but I will say that feeling creatively stifled wasn’t the main impetus; feeling emotionally stifled was more of an emphasis for my leaving. In Malta, because it’s such a social haven, there is very little to react to and as a person who is hyper-emotional I don’t thrive in a climate that is mostly stable. I need novelty, I need to feel emotionally jolted, so I felt that, like many people my age I suspect, I had run out of experiences. Or rather, I knew there were more experiences to be had, but I wanted to test out a set of emotions which I hadn’t yet interrogated, and I knew Malta couldn’t give me that. That’s why I moved to London, I felt I was at a dead-end, both emotionally and creatively. And you cannot separate the two, emotion and creativity. They aren’t really separable to me, so inevitably wanting to experience something emotionally gives rise to wanting to create something. I would probably still be where I am today career-wise if I stayed in Malta, well yes and no, I was working in one of the biggest architecture firms on the islands before I left, doing their marketing as well, and in that role I had a lot of creative license whilst in London I have to have more of a commercial approach, which does call for creativity, just of a different brand. However, the stage is completely different. I could have the same title on my business card as I had back home but the places I’d be giving it out in Malta, for someone who wants to have a career in an international creative industry, would be largely insignificant. In London you have the opportunity to deal with people who are important on an international scale. Although we are Maltese so we inevitably focus on Malta, I really don’t think that this syndrome is unique to us. Everyone I met when I moved to London was, even though not from a small country, from a small town. They all have the same feeling, they all escaped their home because they needed to go through something, they felt stifled etc. This brain drain that people talk about is not unique to Malta, it’s unique to places that you can drive around from start to finish in an hour. That’s why artists have historically moved from their rural/suburban origins to cities – it’s nothing new. I think that Maltese artists are not very well-treated in Malta, obviously you cannot accept working for free if you want to be a serious artist, but we do. That’s where the line between hobbyists and artists is blurred in Malta, when you don’t accept money, when you start doing favours etc, and a lot of us do it because it’s difficult to start out and you want to get published or exhibited or whatever. We don’t have an easy time of jumping the professional boundary from hobbyist to artist. People do have a choice, they can say no to free work, but it’s a struggle. I’m not saying in London people in the creative industry starting out get paid very well, but there is so much more competition that if you do get a break then you will be taken seriously. I also feel that Maltese artists, sometimes, are a bit inward looking, I don’t think that we have the social hardships or injustices which can move us to create works which are incredibly compelling, and so what we tend to do is look into our culture a bit too much, making us extra-introspective. What makes us Maltese? What is the fabric of our country? It’s beautiful and interesting but not enough, we need to start looking at other things – political issues, social issues. As such it’s not really our fault that we are not moved to create masterpieces as we don’t have any supreme injustices. This is not to say that art derives only from difficult situations but I don’t believe that Maltese artists feel they have much of a cause – negative or positive – to represent. For example, in the 60’s we had a cause, having just been made independent we were trying to discover our identity, but our identity has been asserted now and, okay, we’re faced with the challenge of asserting that we belong to Europe but there isn’t much of a struggle there because… we do belong to Europe. I’m not saying I wish war and famine on the country at all, that would be mad, but people go elsewhere because they need to experience things in order to have something to produce art about – things that scare them or make them angry or incredibly curious. If we dig deep enough I’m sure there is something to talk about. In the past there was religion, the best Maltese art is made up of religious works, but now since our society has become more and more secular we are moving away from the church, and the church, like it or not, commissioned a lot of great artists. So that’s another thing that’s missing – good patrons. Who’s buying art? Who’s commissioning it? I, personally, don’t think anyone is on that scale anymore. So, we don’t have a cause, we don’t really have anything that we’re following with intense belief like we used to with the church, we don’t have important patrons, so of course we’re leaving. We have to really work hard to motivate ourselves. Limited population is also factor, everyone coming from small places, it can be suffocating. But I do strongly believe in Maltese talent. People are very talented and very clever in Malta but they’re missing a lot of other elements that contribute to being an artist. How can you be an artist if you don’t have a cause to fight for, if you don’t have someone to buy your art or pay you for your work, or if you’ve run out of things to feel? Do I see myself based in Malta in the future? I don’t have a plan for the future, although I care deeply about my career, it doesn’t define my life, I can be a writer anywhere in the world as long as there is art in that place and I’m moved to think about it, I’m not too concerned with making long-term plans. If I wanted to go back to Malta, I’d have no problem going back. However, I would have never achieved what I have it if I didn’t leave.”
Matthew Attard Navarro; Graphic Designer
“Work in Malta was fine, work was good, I was freelance. Then we moved here because I knew there were more opportunities here. Work-wise Malta was fine but creativity-wise I could probably do much better. You can’t compare the opportunities of Malta with those of London. There aren’t any design studios of the same level as Vice in Malta, but I was still doing fine, even though I wouldn’t have worked with the projects and clients that back home you wouldn’t get. Not everyone is a hobbyist, there are people who think of art as a creative venture rather than a hobby, it’s more the general perception of people around them who think of art as their hobby and automatically they manage to become hobbyists, because if someone is not giving you money for the work you are doing, then you are automatically becoming hobbyists by accepting to do that free. For instance, “could you design a logo for me?” “Sure it costs 250 euro to design a logo” “No but could you do it as a favour for me?” and when you do it as a favour you automatically become a hobbyist. Every single job should get well payed and if it’s consistent then it’s even better. It comes from the people surrounding you as well as the artist themselves being lenient. They need to be firm and make sure that they get payed for what they do. I’m still in touch with the Maltese scene, I work with people back home and eventually I want to have a design studio there as well, that’s what I was doing before I came here, I had clients there and they were happy with my work. i would love to live here and also have something based there as well. Right now I don’t see myself based in Malta. There is nothing happening, and if you look at culture over the past years, things have only gotten worse. St James is empty, V18 is coming up, are there any solid plans? We are in 2014 so there are 4 years. I know work isn’t an issue, but is there a culture? Work is fine, but does a culture you want to be living in exist?. Maybe ten years, I mean I like Malta as an island, I like Malta for weather and friends, we have friends back home that we miss, I miss my family a lot, but what galleries are you going to go to? what are you going to do in the evenings? paceville? the same five clubs?”
Nicola Abela Garrett; Actress
“I’ve been been in London for about seven months, studying. I’m currently doing my MA in professional acting at the academy of live and recorded arts, I work in theatre and television and at the moment I’m specialising in radio and voice-overs. I want to explore that right now. I moved to London specifically because it is the hub for theatre, it was the place to be for me. I left Malta because, as much as I love it, unfortunately when it comes to the arts, we seem to not want to open up any avenues for it. I have a lot to thank Malta for, especially the MADC, because they gave me so many shows to do and I got a good wage out of it. but I could go only so far in terms of expanding my craft, polishing it, refining it. I had to do this course in order to improve myself as an actor. I don’t mind coming back to Malta, but I know I’ll never be able to grasp the opportunities that London has, so I’m here on an adventure. …London’s opened my eyes to a lot of things , it showed me that its all not glitz and glamour, its a tough road and I’ve got to see this huge transition from amateur in Malta to professional where you have people’s salaries depending on you. The society we’ve grown up in in Malta discourages us, and at the end of the day we have to survive. We have to differentiate between the artists who stick to their comfort zones and the artists who have the balls to go out and there and be that ‘starving artist’. Both political parties offer very little support towards the arts. The Maltese society in itself discourages any form of creativity, the educational system too, so it’s not surprising that we have this mentality. Nontheless I have seen productions in Malta which are on equal footing to any West End play. We’re admirable in that we juggle both mornings at work and then we rush to rehearsals, unlike here, in acting you take on two jobs, two major priorities and we do it with love and fun, there’s a sense of family amongst us and there’s a sense of community. Over here it’s all cut-throat. But it’s the nature of the beast. I hope to experience, as every person in Malta should do, life abroad for some time. I’m giving my acting a shot and seeing how long I can survive in London but even if i don’t do acting, I want to stay in London for some time, tough as it may be. “but eventually do you see yourself moving back?” “no I don’t think so”.”