Curated by Chris Gatt
Aux Armes presents two artists side by side in the Upper Galleries of St James Cavalier in Valletta. It is not a coincidence that the site - a historic military cavalier built by the Knights of St John to defend the new city of Valletta and later transformed into a creative cultural hub - is being used for an artistic project that bridges the work of a Maltese artist and a French artist working in the 21st century. Aux Armes is naturally a clarion call, a political statement replete with a kind of patriotism that is viewed with some irony in the West and yet has recently been revived with a great deal of earnestness in the Arab Spring. Aux Armes is about the appropriation of political statements and monumental forms that perhaps have lost some of their power in Western societies, about architectural forms that compartmentalise life and transform themselves into treacherous weapons, and about the innocent and anonymous faces of children who grow into political leaders who lose their anonymity (and perhaps their innocence).
Baptiste Debombourg will be showing a monumental installation that appropriates the classical lines of the Triumphal Arch but banalises it at the same time by building it out of cardboard. His drawings “Tradition of Excellence” create a visual pun by linking two borrowed forms: the outline of firearms used in the twentieth century to kill thousands, possibly, millions of people, and ground plan drawings that we are accustomed to seeing in architects’ offices.
Raphael Vella is a Maltese artist who has shown his work in various international contexts and has also curated international exhibitions. In Aux Armes, Vella is showing two series of drawings that produce various lines of convergence with Debombourg’s work. His “Big Boys” series shows little children whose real identity is hidden behind the veil of childhood. The portraits are based on old photographs of boys who went on to become famous religious leaders, politicians, even terrorists. These works have recently been shown at the Nakagawa Gallery in Tokyo . The second series shows women clad in burkas: images appropriated mainly from internet sites that sell the burka as an item of fashion. A sense of irony permeates the two series of drawings: both men and women wear veils.
Aux Armes is being sponsored generously by St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity and by the Malta Arts Fund.