The Mdina Cathedral Contemporary Art Biennale opened 13 November 2015 and runs to 7 January 2016 in the historic, medieval walled city of Mdina, Malta.
Set against the extraordinary backdrop of the city’s baroque architecture – evident throughout its winding streets, palazzos, chapels and, of course, St. Paul's Cathedral – it will enable a stimulating modern environment in which works of art by artists from diverse cultural backgrounds are displayed together under one central theme Christianity, Spirituality and the Other, 'The Other' standing for faith and non-faith, belief and non-belief, theist and atheist, agnostic and polytheist.
Launched just days ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, hosted by Malta, the Mdina Cathedral Contemporary Art Biennale is an important cultural focus for the country, an island state in the Mediterranean Sea that has historically served as a bridge between North Africa and Europe.
The Mdina Biennale traces its roots back to the previous Christian and Sacred Art Biennale of the 1990s, and the forthcoming 2015 event will radically widen its creative spectrum. The thematic approach is profoundly important, playing a central role in the overarching conception of the Artistic Director, Dr. Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci – to establish the Mdina Cathedral Contemporary Art Biennale as a spiritual space of and for creativity.
The Mdina Cathedral Contemporary Art Biennale has taken a radical new direction, evolving from the first such event, Contemporary Sacred Art in Malta of 1994, and the subsequent exhibitions entitled Contemporary Christian Art, which took place in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2005.
The 1994 event ambitiously underlined the notion of museums as “depositories housing the results of cultural achievements attained by man's will-power extending itself in all directions that emerge from human intelligence”. The 1996 Biennale concentrated on creating “a further development of the Sacred more closely linked with a definite characteristic of our cultural background”. Constant Dialogue was the central theme in 1998: “The widespread evaluation of the constant dialogue between the artist and the world around him”. The 2000 exhibition focussed on “the end of the present Millennium... and the long stretch of innumerable decades and revolving centuries of Christian existence”, while both 2002 and 2005 defined sacred, or spiritual, art as the summit of religious art and emphasised its connection with the artist's “noble ministry”.
The 2015 Biennale will expand these various parameters, positing a bold declaration that all art is spiritual, in the sense that creative depiction, actions and events, through their intrinsic character, reflect the individual's relation with reality, and with his or her own existence. Hence such creative acts are necessarily spiritual, independent of their ostensible devoutness, independent of a faith or lack of faith, independent of their allegiance to any particular faith, or to none.
London-based curatorial organisation ARTNAKED have curated the work of several British and international artists as part of the Biennale alongside the Artistic Director Dr Giuseppe Schembri-Bonaci. ARTNAKED presents a careful selection of artists chosen for ability to respond intelligently and essentially to the theme, as well as deep knowledge of their long-standing artistic development: Adam Dix, Madeleine Fenwick, Andrew Hancock and Richard Shields (UK); Sergei Isakov (Russia); and Lena Lapschina (Austria).
“We are bringing a small but well selected group of artists to Mdina, and hope that alongside the other artists being exhibited we can allow a Maltese audience and more international art-lovers a deep, rich and exciting contemporary art viewing experience. Given the strong and inimitable expression of faith on the island, our selection of artists was completely singular to this occasion.” ARTNAKED
Several artists from this selection have made new work especially for the Biennale, in a direct response to the spirituality and bodily materiality of the island, and specifically Mdina itself.
The Mdina Cathedral Contemporary Art Biennale opened with a classical concert on a grand scale performed by the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, within Mdina’s central cathedral itself, a place in which no such event has ever taken place before. A series of concerts, performances, seminars and lectures will run throughout the duration of the biennale.