Family bonds transcend time and space. The Bonds exhibition celebrating the link between two sisters from Bulgaria, Lilyana Ger and Nadya Peovska, clearly illustrates this. Joseph Agius talks to the exhibition’s curator Roderick Camilleri about their quest to reconnect.

JA. This is an exhibition about sisterly love and family bonds through blood and shared biographies. How did your role as curator of such an intensely personal exhibition enhance the narrative?

RC. Part of my role as a curator was to elicit and trigger ideas and thoughts.

A Memory from a Time by Nadya PeovskaA Memory from a Time by Nadya Peovska

It was through our discussions that such narratives were considered as a potential theme for the exhibition.

I helped the artists process their ideas to form the main concept of the exhibition and find a common topic for this joint venture. Over time, the concept consolidated and developed into underlying personal accounts, which formed a spectrum of visual compositions and notions linked with human relationships and familial bonding.

JA. Embroidery and other traditional media are sometimes unceremoniously lumped as craft. However, international blue-chip artists like Grayson Perry and Tracey Emin have exploited their possibilities and repurposed them as media worth exploring in a fine art setting. Do the works of Nadya Peovska similarly straddle the boundary between art and craft? Does it make the work more poignant and personal?

RC. Yes, Nadya’s artworks propagate stimulating connotations. On one hand, she links the so-called ‘boundaries’ in interesting ways, whereas on the other, she presents creative paths by producing personal expressions that go beyond the typography and mechanical routines asso­cia­ted with this tradition. The practice in itself is intimately linked with the legacy and identity of her home culture but the spontaneous, playful work represents her creativity, individuality and personality.

Family Story by Nadya PeovskaFamily Story by Nadya Peovska

JA. British psychotherapist and art historian Rozsika Parker noted in her book The Subversive Stitch (1984) that, “The art of embroidery has been a means of educating women into the feminine ideal… but has also provided a weapon of resistance to the constraints of femininity.” The female domesticity that is generally associated with such techniques, enterprises that are generally of a very private and personal nature embarked upon within the family home, have been liberalised by female artists like Emin. Do Peovska’s works fit in this emancipation?

RC. Well, such a question is not very straightforward to answer, especially given that the artist is not directly addressing such issues. However, I think that, in a way, the use of embroidery as a means of a creative-expression has a strong emancipatory constituent. In this context, it is used as a resourceful method for experimentation to explore new ways of expressions, forming new trajectories and possible visual compositions.

The exhibition zooms into a simple, modest, yet very fundamental message

Moreover, the artist considers embroidery as a significant medium intimately embedded in the customs and traditions of her native country, Bulgaria. Thus, as much as it is liberating, her experimental work is also a way of connecting with bygone stories. In fact, she defines every stitch and thread as a sign of her connection with the past.

JA. One can’t help but notice the melancholy and the pathos in Peovska’s paintings. Does this represent the sadness of siblings being separated and living apart due to personal circumstances? Is this an evocation of the pain caused by physical separation across the board?

Child Memory by Nadya PeovskaChild Memory by Nadya Peovska

RC. I think that all the artworks of the exhibition, including the digital collages by Lilyana Ger, share a common underlying element that acts as an artistic externalisation of existential moments, sometimes representing intense feelings related to personal circumstances. Some of the paintings are a kind of visual metaphor, whereas others directly represent moods or psychological states that might be read as evocations of particular episodes in the artist’s life.

JA. Collage can be considered as a cross fertilisation of concepts that are brought together holistically. Liliana Ger manipulates the medium digitally and integrates family photographs, just as her sister does, into her narratives. Can Ger’s collages be considered as a stitching of sorts?

RC. Yes, in a way, Lilyana’s work is a form of assemblage, combining and recreating visual content. Through her work, she groups and blends different narratives and memories. Her practice is a playful strategy to remember and reconfigure memoirs and various stories, envisioned through the synthesis of photo manipulation and collage techniques. Some of her digital manipulations and compositions are distilled into simple direct metaphors. Other compositions can be read as metonyms for personal recollections.

JA. Family trees, (which are reminiscent of some of Antoine Camilleri’s very personal paintings), DNA strands, shared lipsticks, bonds by blood, passing on traditions, recollection, ‘fossilised’ photos – the iconography of this exhibition suggests a ‘staticity’, a rooting of sorts. Bonds strikes me as a definition of what makes us social animals needing hierarchies. There is also a sug­gestion of posterity through mementos. Are the two artists going against the grain by actually embracing the concept of family and celebrating it in an exhibition at a time when the traditional structure of a family is being debated, derided and contested?

RC. This exhibition is very particular precisely for this reason you are mentioning. Nowadays, whether we like it or not, most exhibitions focus on current themes fuelled by trends. Some are designed to celebrate creativity, artistic virtuosity, cultural legacy or historical moments or achievements. Others are a kind of statement shaped to address a specific collective social, political or economic issue. In this case, the exhibition zooms to a simple, modest, yet very fundamental message. It is about the significance of the inner community in our lives, the meaning and role of our ménage, and all those little belongings which make our lives momentous and worth living. Furthermore, it is about being grateful, showing empathy and emotional intelligence to the community and the people around us.

Bonds is hosted by The Malta Society of Arts, Palazzo de la Salle, Valletta, and runs until September 23. COVID-19 mitigation rules apply.

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