Maltese artist Matthew Attard will represent Malta at the prestigious La Biennale di Venezia art exhibition in 2024.
The 36-year-old artist’s installation, I Will Follow the Ship will delve into the special bond Malta, and similar countries, have with the sea that surrounds them, and themes such as faith, hope, history, and their place in contemporary society.
“I don’t even know where to begin, it is such an honour and a huge life opportunity to represent Malta at the Biennale,” Attard told Times of Malta.
Arts Council Malta is the commissioner of the Malta Pavilion at the international exhibition.
Often described as the ‘Olympics of the Art World’, the festival brings together some of the world’s best curators, artists and critics, and sees over 90 countries take part in this international exhibition.
This is not his first time at the Venice Biennale, when in 2009 he collaborated with the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the US Pavilion at the international exhibition.
“When you get to experience working at such an exhibition, that moment remains with you, and you dream about exhibiting your work there. And now it’s full circle, and I cannot wait to start working with the curatorial team.”
Attard, who has also lived and exhibited his work in Venice, is currently reading for a PhD at the Edinburgh College of Art at the University of Edinburgh, specialising and researching the mechanism of vision.
And the timing couldn’t be better, as he is currently finalising his PhD thesis.
“I’m closing one chapter and starting another fantastic and exciting one.”
He first exhibited his work in 2014 at Galleria Michela Rizzo in Venice, the same art gallery that has represented Attard for the past 10 years and which will be overseeing the project management along with Maria Galea.
Since then, Attard has exhibited in Venice, Rome, Valletta, Genoa, London and Beijing, among other cities.
Inspired by ex-voto ship graffiti
Represented by Galleria Michela Rizzo, I Will Follow the Ship will be curated by Sara Dolfi Agostini and Elyse Tonna. Maria Galea and Galleria Michela Rizzo will oversee the project management.
Gonzalo Pastor Teso is the production consultant, Vincenzo Casali is the consulting architect and Joey Borg will oversee the programming and software development of the project.
Artistic director Domínguez Sanchez Teruel will be managing the International outreach and programming.
The Maltese pavilion is based on a series of drawings by Attard called Id-Dgħajjes tal-Fidili (vessels of the faithful).
He explained that he was inspired by popular historical images of ex-voto ship graffiti, particularly those drawings etched on the facades of numerous local wayside chapels.
Such ship graffiti gives a first-hand impression of what the vessels had looked like in the eyes of these non-artists, most likely seamen, and Attard said he was interested in the intentions behind such drawings.
“There is meaning and hope behind these illustrations,” he said.
He said that his illustrations are a result of using an eye-tracker − a device used to scan people’s gaze and record this in the form of data.
“As an artist, my medium has always been surrounded by drawing, so I found myself retracing these etchings using this technology, and my faith and hope went into technology to produce my art.”
The title refers to the role of the boat as a vessel of hope and a depository of faith, while the term ‘fidil’ has different meanings.
Deriving from the Latin ‘fidelis’ meaning faith or faithful, but in Maltese, a person who foolishly trusts everyone or everything is labelled as a ‘fidil’.
He said that despite working and exhibiting his work abroad, he always turns to home for inspiration.
“This country and its cultural background are very important to me,” he adds.
“This is how I work − I look back at this historical imagery, the chapels, the drawings and to me this is something very powerful.”
After a 17-year absence, Malta returned to the Biennale in 2017 and again in 2019 and 2022.
The 60th edition of the Art Biennale will open on April 20 until November 24, 2024.