Women are becoming more and more represented in the local arts scene. Stephanie Fsadni speaks to three artists from the visual and performance arts about their inspiration, femininity, obstacles and aspirations.

Xaxa Calleja, painter

Charlene Calleja, 36, was born in Toronto, Canada. She started pursuing art seriously in 2006, when she began attending lessons at the Jason Lu Studio. She read for BA Honours in History of Art from the University of Malta and an MA in Museum Studies from the University of Leicester. She has been creating artworks in her free time for nearly 10 years. Audiences who have seen her work may remember different exhibits. Her first exhibition, 365, was an installation of 365 masks, each of which was a personal interpretation, representation and manifestation of a feeling. Her second exhibition, The Trees, was a series of oil paintings exploring anthropomorphism, while her last solo exhibition, Interiority Disclosed, was a reflection of inner life portrayed through anatomy.

What inspires you?

The environment and what I choose to see. My first exhibition was inspired by my work environment and how I felt in relation to it. My second one was inspired by trees and the idea of wanting to see the human image within our environment. The third series was inspired by anatomy and what it means to me to be human. In retrospect, I seem fixated on the human body. All three exhibitions seemed to have touched upon it, but honestly I was not consciously aware of this.

Do you express your femininity through your art?

I think that my femininity as an artist is reflected in the subject matter and in the way I execute my work. I express whatever I happen to be going through. I think that the feminine quality is integral to being a woman, so definitely it is expressed in my artwork.

Are women well represented in the local arts scene?

I feel that the arts in Malta are still represented more by men than by women. Artists of both sexes have the same opportunities to exhibit but I think that in general, women in Malta are struggling to find the right balance between working and their personal lives. Many women may feel that pursuing creative work outside of work and family commitments is a luxury.

In a patriarchal society such as ours, the onus on the family’s cohesion is on the woman. In turn, it’s okay for a woman to give up or put her hobby on the back burner to focus on the family. Men, in society’s eyes, are allowed to continue theirs. I think that with more women becoming breadwinners and homeowners, Malta is at an interesting junction for female artists. Time will tell.

Did you find it difficult to get your work recognised in the local/international scene? Can you mention any obstacles?

I would say financial constraints are a big obstacle. The process of exhibiting a collection is costly: framing, renting the exhibition space, marketing, paints, catering... These are costs the public overlooks. Thankfully, local funding such as The Malta Arts Fund helps aspiring artists considerably to blunt the expenses. Then there is the conundrum of do I put up works which appeal to me but do not appeal to the public or shall I hold an exhibition which appeals to the public but I’m not absolutely happy with? My husband has pestered me at length to hold a religious-themed one, but as a subject matter it does not appeal to me.

I have found support from like-minded artists and followers. I think there is a growing awareness in Malta that we need to help artists if we want to have a thriving artistic community. I have been lucky to have benefited from funding. I stress again that had it not been for support given through local funding such as The Malta Arts Fund I would not have afforded to financially support the projects I have managed to do till now as I was particular on my exhibition space.

Any tips for emerging young artists?

Stick to projects or themes that you are passionate about. I don’t think I would be able to create work just because I think it would sell. One needs perseverance and patience. At times it can get so frustrating and disheartening if you try to live to other people’s expectations of you. Not everyone is going to like what you do; I think you need to accept it and just keep going.

What are your aspirations?

I want to continue to do work I find relevant and meaningful, and that reflects my thoughts at the time of creation. My works are like my diary, a record particular periods of my life. Hopefully audiences can connect to my work at some level.

So far I have focused on the local scene, but this year I have decided to try working abroad. I have been accepted on a residency in London; it was through the Mobility Support Grant, which forms part of the Malta Arts Fund, that I was able to accept the place. The prospect of looking internationally was so daunting that I didn’t know where to start. There is so much to choose from and you need to choose carefully as you only have so much time and so many resources available. Whatever choice you make, you want to make it count.

Coryse Borg, actress

Coryse Borg, 41, has been singing and acting as long as she can remember. She joined the Manoel Theatre Academy of Dramatic Arts (Mtada) when she was 14. When she graduated at 19, she joined the MADC.

Since then, she has worked with the majority of theatre companies locally, done some TV and film work both locally and internationally, and has also had quite a few opportunities to perform abroad.

Her claim to fame is a bit part in the 2000 movie Gladiator, which was partly shot in Malta. Coryse would love to act for a living but instead she teaches, writes and does voice-overs, among many other things. Two roles she remembers fondly are Nadia from Mark Ravenhill’s Some Explicit Polaroids, produced by Unifaun and directed by Chris Gatt, because her role – that of an abused pole dancer who tries to redeem herself – was very challenging and Shirley in Kjaroskur, written by Simone Spiteri. Other plays she’s proud of are The Bacchae (MADC, directed by Toni Attard) and The Vagina Monologues (FM Theatre Productions, directed by Chris Gatt).

She is glad she is reprising another role she thoroughly enjoyed next month – that of Ms Spiteri in Simon Bartolo’s Għajn Eye Three, which was originally put up as part of the ŻiguŻajg Festival in 2013.

What inspires you?

I think it’s the opportunity to totally immerge yourself in a character to the extent that you actually ‘become’ that character for a few hours and make people believe you. It’s an amazing feeling.

Do you express your femininity on stage?

Well, I suppose it’s impossible not to. Whatever role I’ve played – and I’ve played roles from fairy princesses to abused women to a singing chicken (in my first panto) – even when I’ve played male parts, I suppose some of that still remains.

Are women well represented in the local drama scene?

Most theatre directors do tend to be men, I would say. But there are lots of immensely talented female directors who can more than hold their own in this field. I think that rather than thinking whether the local drama scene is more represented by men or women, we should be making sure productions of high calibre are produced.

Do you think female roles in local drama are clichéd?

It depends. On television, I would say we still have a long way to go. On stage… well I’ve been lucky enough to play some amazingly strong, multifaceted characters written by both male and female Maltese playwrights.

Is local drama featuring enough contemporary female issues?

Again, I’ve been lucky in that the local productions I have taken part in have never shirked away from discussing salient female issues at all.

Can you mention any obstacles you found on your way to become an actress?

Luckily, I have always found people to help me rather than hinder me on my way. My family have also been enormously supportive and proud of me. And, of course, my young son is my biggest fan! For a while I was typecast as the ‘pretty young thing’ but it didn’t really bother me that much. I quite enjoyed it, in fact. Nowadays, I am very grateful to be given more meaty roles. I like a challenge.

Any tips for emerging young female actors?

Train as hard as you can. Never stop learning. Watch good actors on stage. Believe in yourselves. Never think something is too hard. Push yourselves and you’ll be surprised at what you can do.

What are your aspirations?

I just want to go on performing as many interesting roles as I can for the foreseeable future. I love it; it really is part of what I am and has contributed to making me the person I am today, And, finally, I want to direct more theatre, hopefully soon.

Ritty Tacsum, photographer

Ritianne Muscat, aka Ritty Tacsum, 24, actively started experimenting with the medium of photography at 19. At the moment, photography is almost her full-time job – almost because she still does some freelance work which is not directly related to photography, yet which complements it. Her greatest achievement so far would probably be the participation in a collective show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei.

What inspires you?

Everything can be a source of inspiration: from movies, to music, to shopping at the local grocery store. I guess when you’re really open and observant of your surroundings, it comes quite natural. Having a good eye and knowing how to eliminate or drown out the noise and chaos distracting us is also an asset which aids creativity.

Do you express your femininity through your art?

I don’t think I express femininity per se. I’m mainly interested in representing androgynous figures, those possessing traits which are both masculine and feminine, or rather, those figures which blur the two genders into one. In fact, I like the notion of the third gender.

Are women well represented in the local photography scene?

I think there is a healthy balance between men and women, especially nowadays since the medium has

become so accessible. The problem is that it has become too accessible. Nowadays, everyone is a photographer, but few are truly interested and serious about the medium.

Did you find it difficult to get your work recognised in the local/international scene? Can you mention any obstacles?

Perhaps my greatest obstacle was asserting myself and positioning myself as an experimental/artistic photographer. When I started out, most people were contacting me for events such as weddings, etc… they couldn’t understand that I use the camera to express myself and not to capture some happy moment. Photography can be a skill and a technique one can master, but it can also be an art. I strive for the latter.

Of course, it’s difficult to get your work recognised, especially on an international scale, however, one cannot stop trying.

Any tips for emerging young photographers?

Best advice I could give is to keep your feet on the ground and to be selective with whom you work.

What are your aspirations?

I like to take things as they come; however, my next goal is to organise an international solo-exhibition and to launch my new website which will include an online shop.

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