In 1998, Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti organised the exhibition Costumes in Malta at the Grand Master’s Palace. This exhibition provided a general overview of the development of Maltese fashion and included garments of humble country folk to the privileged classes.

The exhibition was particularly popular and attracted approximately 34,000 visitors for its month run. But after that success, it took Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti 26 years to organise their next costume exhibition, which is appropriately titled, Curious Beauty: An Alternative Costume Exhibition.

“People love costume and kept asking us when we will you do another one,” said Francesca Balzan who, alongside Caroline Tonna, is the artistic director behind Curious Beauty, which is being exhibited at Palazzo Falson in Mdina.

Balzan is a full-time artist and Tonna is a fashion historian, but both previously worked as curators of the museum and know the space like the back of their hands.

The promotion image of the exhibition. Photo: <em>Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti</em>The promotion image of the exhibition. Photo: Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti

Balzan and Tonna both made a clear distinction that their roles for this project are not as curators but rather as artistic directors.

They decided to take a more creative approach for this project and, instead of simply curating the space, they converted the museum into an art installation.

The venue, Palazzo Falson, was the home of Captain Olof Frederick Gollcher OBE (1889-1962) from 1927 till the end of his life. Gollcher was an artist, soldier, collector and, by all accounts, the life of any party. Tonna and Balzan wanted the exhibition to reflect Gollcher’s joie de vivre and avant-garde attitude.

“We constructed the concept of the exhibition by keeping in mind the life and character of Olof Gollcher, who was always in high spirits and trying to be different,” said Tonna.

A scene from the <em>Curious Beauty</em> exhibition at Palazzo Falson.A scene from the Curious Beauty exhibition at Palazzo Falson.

While Gollcher was alive, the palazzo was host to multiple lavish parties that would be bursting with conversations and laughter, and that is the spirit that Tonna and Balzan have managed to recreate, only this time with objects.

“This exhibition is a conversation with objects. We are creating a dialogue between the objects and the space,” said Balzan. 

We wanted to make the objects as playful and whimsical as possible- Caroline Tonna - curator

Through that dialogue, the pair have managed to bring the objects to life. For example, the centre of some of the rowdiest conversations in Gollcher’s time would be in his kitchen, so much so that he nicknamed it the trattoria, and Tonna and Balzan managed to recreate that trattoria atmosphere in the way they perfectly managed to choreograph the gloves around the kitchen table, resulting in the exhibition not only having a pulse but also a sense of humour.

Unlike the exhibition’s precursor in 1998, Curious Beauty is not inundated with data, perhaps due to the fact this exhibition has artistic directors as opposed to curators, resembling scenes in a play at times more than a traditional exhibition.

Rather, this exhibition is wonderfully tongue in cheek – from stomachers being displayed in the dining room to the corsets on display having a caption from the Book of Proverbs in the Bible.

“We wanted to make the objects as playful and whimsical as possible,” said Tonna, who continued: “We are taking objects which, on their own, others might find boring and are giving them a new character.”

Tonna and Balzan managed to recreate that <em>trattoria</em> atmosphere in the way they perfectly managed to choreograph the gloves around the kitchen table.Tonna and Balzan managed to recreate that trattoria atmosphere in the way they perfectly managed to choreograph the gloves around the kitchen table.

The exhibition also provides the rare opportunity to see a number of historical costumes which were provided by Heritage Malta, Casa Rocca Piccola and a number of private collections.

It is as well an opportunity to see the fantastic work of a number of artists and craftspeople which were made specifically for the exhibition.

These include wigs by Marcelle Genovese, ganutell by Anna Balzan and Anna Maria Gatt’s monumental lace pattern made from nautical rope, which took 90 hours to create!

“This exhibition is meant to be uplifting. It feels like we are going through a dark period in history and we wanted to give the viewer at least one hour to just enjoy beauty,” said Balzan.

Curious Beauty will continue until June 16 and also has a catalogue available. Booking is essential. To register, kindly send an e-mail on or call on 2145 4512.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us