On Friday, the third edition of the APS Mdina Cathedral Contemporary Art Biennale opens under Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci’s artistic direction. In it, new works will be installed in Mdina Cathedral Museum’s baroque setting, beside its permanent collection. APS CEO Marcel Cassar tells Jo Caruana why the biennale has become an important part of the bank’s calendar.

Why has APS decided to renew its support for the Mdina Cathedral Contemporary Art Biennale?

This is the third edition of the biennale, and this year’s chosen theme – ‘Regaining a Paradise Lost: the Role of the Arts’ – strikes a particular chord. Sustainability is very high on the bank’s agenda, both now, and going forward, more than ever. So aside from our umbilical link with the biennale as an art event, we found this year’s theme particularly motivating.

What do you believe was the legacy and impact of the last one?

The 2017-2018 biennale had explored the multiple manifestations of Medi­terranean identity as visualised by past and contemporary art. Artists created site-specific works that investigated the theme of the Mediterranean as a basin where various cultures and religions meet, with its history of conflicts and struggles. The permanent collection of the Mdina Cathedral Museum also contributed to the theme.

I think that the political scenario which again sees the Mediterranean as a sea of tension, increasingly so because of issues like migration and illegal trade in people and goods, made that biennale a very topical one. It creates a space that gives life to contemporary issues by providing the arts as a medium of dialogue and debate while strongly linked to the past.

How has the concept developed since the last edition of the biennale?

The biennale is an evergreen project and its strength lies in its ability to remain contemporary. The issues of yesterday are not those of today, and less so of tomorrow. Addressing the relationship between spirituality and the environment, focusing on the links with the protection of the planet and all its species, and how the arts can enhance that discussion was a natural way for the biennale to go in 2020.

APS Bank is known for supporting culture and the arts. Why is it such an important pillar for you?

Art and culture can be the bedrock that helps transform society. They can bring down social and economic barriers in a society that’s been taken over by technological development. And they can inspire thinking and creati­vity, and elevate them to higher levels.

As a bank that is active in communities that are changing fast, our support of culture and the arts is much more than meeting our CSR agenda. It has to do with our values as a bank, which are excellence, inclusiveness, authenticity, passion and being contemporary.

We believe that art and culture can be so powerful that they can potentially influence political thinking, the economy, and the future well-being of society.

Which parts of the programme are you most looking forward to, and that you would encourage people to come to see?

As always, every part of the programme, every work, is an experience. There is nothing to be singled out. Rather, I would prefer to focus on three questions that the biennale organisers have asked of the participants.

First, how is art confronting the radical and real threats, ranging from mass appropriation and destruction of habitats to technology use in genetic engineering? Second, can art play a role in this conflict between materiality and nature, and if so, what role? Third, is spirituality a neglected consideration or is art still preoccupied with supra-human matters?

I feel that these questions and the way the artists tackle them can guide the viewer as to what to expect from the exhibitors and their works.

What do you hope the legacy of this year’s event will be?

Despite the far greater awareness and dissemination of knowledge that we have today, contemporary society continues to exploit the planet and negates the question of the continuity of our earthly home; and at an alarming speed of regression than ever before. Coming half a century after Malta’s groundbreaking initiative at the United Nations which saw the seabed enshrined in international law as a common heritage of man­kind, this biennale is a timely call that shows how much more is still to be done.

APS Bank is the main partner of the APS Mdina Cathedral Contemporary Art Biennale 2020. The APS Mdina Cathedral Contemporary Art Biennale runs from March 13 to April 18 at the Mdina Cathedral Museum. Opening hours are Monday to Saturday from 9.30am to 5pm. Tickets cost €5 for adults and €3.50 for students. Children under 12 enter for free. For more information, visit the Facebook page ‘The APS Mdina Cathedral Contemporary Art Biennale 2020’, or www.mdinabiennale.com.

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