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PAVILION OF MALTA at the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia

Updated: Apr 13, 2022

Arts Council Malta

Press Release, February 2022

Curators: Keith Sciberras (Malta) and Jeffrey Uslip (USA)

Exhibitors: Arcangelo Sassolino (Italy), Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci (Malta), Brian Schembri (Malta)

Arts Council Malta, under the auspices of the Ministry for The National Heritage, The Arts and Local Government is pleased to announce that the Malta Pavilion at the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia 2022, will be co-curated by Keith Sciberras (MLT) and Jeffrey Uslip (USA) and will feature artists Arcangelo Sassolino (ITA), Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci (MLT) and composer Brian Schembri (MLT).

The Malta Pavilion, titled Diplomazija astuta, reimagines Caravaggio’s seminal altarpiece The Beheading of St. John the Baptist as an immersive, sculptural installation that overlays biblical narrative onto the present traversing 1608 to 2022, from the noetic to the metaphysical. By transposing the zeitgeist of the Oratory of the Decollato in Valletta onto the Malta Pavilion, Diplomazija astuta re-situates Caravaggio’s immanent themes within modern life, prompting viewers to traverse a space where the tragedy and brutality of St. John’s execution is experienced in the present, the injustices of the past are reconciled and shared humanist principles can be upheld in the future.

Through the use of induction technology, Arcangelo Sassolino’s kinetic installation conjures molten steel droplets that falls from a structure overhead into seven basins of water, each representing a subject in The Beheading. Upon contact with the water, the bright orange embers hiss, cool and recede into darkness. Brian Schembri created a “percussive score” based on “Ut queant laxis,” the Gregorian chant hymn attributed to Guido d’Arezzo in honor of John the Baptist and rhythmical motifs derived from Carlo Diacono’s two hymns composed on the same Latin text and Charles Camilleri’s “Missa Mundi,” to choreograph the timing and frequency of each descending ember, while Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci’s incisions into the installation itself (a sculpted ciphertext) proposes a daunting salve that embeds knowledge beyond and within our grasp.

Diplomazija astuta posits that the skirr of Modernism’s industrial progress culminated in humankind's capacity to destroy itself. In turn, for society to embody its future self in the present, the signal material of Modernism—steel—must be physically, metaphorically and spiritually melted to create space for new progress to occur.

Diplomazija astuta is haunted by the specters of John's beheading, competing political agendas, cultural mores and instrumentalized geopolitics. Through the re-presentation of St. John’s beheading in a contemporary sculptural language, biblical tragedy resonates with current world events, revealing the blind spots and failures of the humanist project across millennia: deceit, media malpractice and the weaponization of ideas.

Diplomazija astuta—anchored in Maltese creative talent and art history—elevates the potential for art to lead us forward through complex moments in time. The Minister for The National Heritage, The Arts and Local Government Dr. Owen Bonnici states, “With the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals at the forefront of our minds, this iteration of the Malta Pavilion demonstrates how art can represent society’s ideologies and ideals. Our Malta project presents a transcendent cultural experience where beholders imagine a path towards reconciliation; it brings us great pride to put forth this salient project at one of the largest exhibitions of contemporary art in the world.”

Arts Council Malta Executive Chairman Albert Marshall notes, “This extraordinary and timely installation—an invention of the collaborative creative effort between our curators and artists—puts forth a Malta Pavilion that layers that which is said to have passed with that which is still unfolding. Diplomazija astuta creates a palimpsest that uniquely operates within the realms of Caravaggio’s altarpiece and contemporary Maltese visual culture.”



Commissioner: Arts Council Malta

Curators: Keith Sciberras (MLT) and Jeffrey Uslip (USA),

Exhibitors: Arcangelo Sassolino (ITA), Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci (MLT), and Brian Schembri (MLT) Project Managers: Nikki Petroni (MLT) and Esther Flury (CH / USA)

Press inquiries: Margaret London – /

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