The true legacy of Valletta 2018 01 January 2019

Search the shores of an ancient land,
under the stars along the sand;
between the pines and cactus tree
see the stone where the lizard sleeps.

What is the object over there?
Who is the man by the orange tree?
The voices calling in the square?
The light that flickers out at sea?

- Victor Pasmore,
'What is the object over there? (Points of Contact No. 17)'

As the countdown ticked zero and we celebrated the start of a new year, we were also celebrating the end of another, now a closed chapter, along with all its ups and downs. As a nation, Malta looks back on 2018 as the year in which Valletta proudly owned the title of European Capital of Culture, which brought about a significant number of events and projects.

Central to the philosophy of ‘Valletta 2018’ was the theme of ‘Future Baroque’, which sought to bring together the city’s Baroque origins and buildings with contemporary realities faced by the city today. A common element between the Valletta of the Knights of St John and the Valletta we know today is its multicultural characteristic. With its harbours, its touristic appeal, as well as Malta’s unique geographical location between North Africa and Europe, Valletta is in its very nature a cosmopolitan city. With the Order consisting of member knights from all over Europe, Valletta was born cosmopolitan, and a quick walk along Republic Street testifies to this enduring characteristic today. Perhaps, being a small country with a long history of colonialisation means that we inevitably tend to be somewhat sceptical of foreigners. However, this cross-cultural element is inherent to the identity of Valletta and Malta and it is something that should be celebrated!

It might come down to a ‘grass is greener’ mentality, but often, it is foreigners who, looking at Malta with unbiased eyes, remind us just how beautiful our small nation really is. How proud do we feel when global names such as Queen Elizabeth and her most recent daughter-in-law speak highly of tiny Malta? One example of an outsider whose eyes were open to the uniqueness of Malta was a certain Victor Pasmore, a British artist who fell in love with the Island and made it his home in 1966, living the remainder of his life in his farmhouse in Gudja together with his wife, Wendy, herself a significant twentieth-century artist. Pasmore was a well-known British artist who had radically changed his style, moving away from the figurative to become one of the most important abstract artists. He produced some of his best abstract works during his time in Malta, a number of which are housed at the Victor Pasmore Gallery while others form part of the national collection, both in Valletta, not to mention those hidden away from the public eye. One of the works by Pasmore in the national collection is entitled 'What is the object over there?' (1973) - an abstract composition whose accompanying poem, in which he speaks of ‘an ancient land’, suggests it was dedicated to Malta, his adopted home.

Pasmore’s art is just one of several remarkable examples in the national collection, finally re-opened under its new name MUŻA towards the end of 2018. The collection, which ranges from prehistory to modernism, has been moved to the more central Auberge d’Italie, adding to this ever-increasing cluster of spaces where art, in whatever form, can be experienced within a Baroque (or Baroque-inspired) shell. Its new location and novel approach seeks to bring the age-old idea of viewing artworks closer to the modern-day person, aiming to be the first ‘national-community art museum’. It is, essentially, the tangible remains of Valletta 2018.

The title of European Capital of Culture might have moved slightly northward to southern Italy, specifically to Matera, but should this mean that we are to return, unchanged, back to our nationwide routines? The true legacy of Valletta 2018 is not in its events or even in its projects, but it is in our mindset, which is hopefully now much more appreciative of what Valletta, and Malta, has to offer. Europe’s smallest capital city is endowed with artistic and historical value… do we really need the crown of European Capital of Culture to be aware of what we have?

This entry was published in the Air Malta in-flight magazine, il-Bizzilla, for the month of January 2019.

Written by Samuel Casha