Five Maltese and foreign artists have got together to put up an exhibition based around street art and Maltese iconography. The exhibition, House of Expressive Liberties, is the brainchild of the Malta Street Art Collective, a recently-formed NGO that brings together a number of street artists with the aim of organising regular events.

“We have been organising events for quite a while, but up till now that has been done within our circle of friends and artists, rather than on a more public level,” says James Micallef Grimaud, one of the founding artists of the Malta Street Art Collective and also one of the originators of the current exhibition. “Now we have created a more structured setup so that we can take these events to a wider audience. This exhibition is the second such event being held under the umbrella of the NGO. The first one, a Graffiti Jam, also attracted positive interest and was centred around the Skate Park in Msida, which we revamp on a regular basis.”

Now, the NGO’s second official event is up and running, with five artists coming together to showcase their difference styles and mediums under one theme, using traditional and religious iconology to explore ideas of modern life.  The exhibits include large scale paintings, sculpture, photography and performance art. Besides James, who is perhaps known more as Twitchcraft in street art circles, participating artists include Spy Emerson, from San Francisco, the US, Rachel Formosa, Malta, Lasse Ullven, Finland, Juan Matarranz, Madrid and Marcamix, South Africa.

In a way, it’s a reinvention of religion within a contemporary message

James explains that he has always been fascinated by the idea of religion and Maltese iconography. “I wanted to do something that is related to the niches that are ubiquitous on the island. Initially, I wanted to tie this to the concept of eroticism and see how far I wanted to push it, but as the idea developed, the concept changed.”

A visit to the Pilar Chapel in Valletta sealed the deal for him, inspiring him to reinterpret the niches he found there into more modern versions.

“Most saints died as martyrs, defending their religion. That is our most common local understanding of their persona. It was a question of religion versus evil. For this exhibition, I turned this idea around to relate it to the evil and the issues that plague society today. In a way, it’s a reinvention of religion within a contemporary message.”

This reinterpretation is, of course, being tackled from a different angle by each of the participating artist. Particularly given that some of the artists are not Maltese – and thus were not raised within the Maltese cultural idiom when it comes to religion – the approach and understanding of each individual is bound to vary.

“I was fascinated to see how we each had a different engagement with the topic. For me, saints are epic in nature. I’m used to the feasts, the larger-than-life celebrations… this tends to reveal itself in my compositions and I love to play around with it. But for the others, it’s different,” James says.

Feedback so far, despite the unorthodox approach to a conservative and beloved subject, has been encouraging. James explains that one of the biggest challenges encountered in developing the exhibition was, in fact, not to cross certain lines so as not to alienate people. In the meantime, the evocative space at the Splendid, in Strait Street, has been transformed into a fully-fledged exhibition space that also sees performance art taking place on specific days.

House of Expressive Liberties runs until January 7, when the event closes with a punk night.

For more information about events on specific nights look up the event page on Facebook.

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