MeliTENSION: the real, the unreal, & the surreal
Exhibited at MUŻA - Maltese National Fine Art Gallery | 21/01/22 - 27/02/22 [CLOSED]
MeliTENSION consists of 10 pop-surreal digital paintings by Ramon Azzopardi Fiott accompanied by performance: “The Patriot Act II”, a collaboration with burlesque star Undine LeVerve. The paintings depict fantastical creatures inspired by icons of Maltese identity, set against local backdrops. Each telling a different story, the collection is diverse yet cohesive. They are strange, colourful and whimsical, much like the artist. The works capture a sense of nostalgia and a curiosity for what could be, within the themes of social identity and heritage loss.
The Patriot Act II is a revisited piece inspired by LeVerve’s original, after which it's named. The performer embodies Melita, the spirit of the island in a tongue in cheek burlesque routine that addresses the country's aesthetic decline with the rise of concrete towers.
All together this exhibition is an invitation for the viewers to reconnect with their inner daydreamer and see the rock through a, perhaps, different lens. The show presents a holistic fantasy of a dreamlike Malta where the monsters are a little less scary.
MeliTESION is the final nail in the coffin of my old life.
Not a necessarily grim statement, but an understandable interpretation. I have spent the last few years putting my life back together after the death of my mother. I dedicated my debut exhibition “Epokaliss” to her and opened it on the night of the first anniversary of her death. It was a dark, introspective collection - nothing like the new one.
MeliTENSION has been long in coming. My fascination with melitensia is life-long, which resulted in me turning in a fish-bus fusion drawing for a 6th form assignment. This concept is the first echo of what turned out to be a decade long journey, moulded by circumstance, perseverance and my synesthesia.
The fish-bus grew into a renaissance dolphin-bus, and this one concept turned into an ambitious surreal series of benevolent beasts representing our island’s identity called “Ikona”. I collaborated with local artist Eric Attard, we sketched and fleshed out beautiful concepts which were sadly abandoned for years. Since then, Eric and I split up, my mother died, I move and life went on.
Now, I’m finally in a much better place. This is not to say I’m over my grief - I don’t think any of us really “get over grief”. I’ve just rebuilt myself in such a manner to withstand the loss better. Part of this process has been tying up all the loose ends from before, to give myself a new slate and lease on life. 5 of the original series made it to MeliTension. A couple are inspired by Ikona’s concepts and the rest are simply new additions to the fantasy.
I hope my creatures charm you as much as they do me. I hope they encourage you to really take in what we have left of our heritage around us, living and thriving outside a museum display. And If you are Maltese, by any definition, I hope you can see part of yourself in them. They are a tribute to our culture and a plea to not lose ourselves in the name of supposed progress.
Ramon Azzopardi Fiott’s recent work amuses me, not simply through its fun-filled, bright and quirky aesthetic; or because of its social commentary on local heritage and culture, but perhaps mostly through a rather more personal perspective – that of knowing first hand the hand behind it, with the work becoming the lens through which he sees his world.
I met Ramon in the Autumn of 2013 some weeks prior to his enrolment on the BFA in Digital Arts undergraduate course at the University of Malta. He was a young and energetic art student with a sharp and idiosyncratic sense of humour, and like many of his colleagues joining the first cohort of the newly-launched course, with big aspirations for a successful future as a visual creative. Since then I have witnessed the fast-paced growth in the honing of his artistic craft coupled by a sharpening of his conceptual sensibility, a perceptiveness that is particularly focused on a genuine concern of his for this island of ours and its changing identity.
Ramon is a passionate, Maltese bricoleur and in his illustrations, he reflects this very common, perhaps innerly ingrained trait found in the locals and best manifested in their indigenous expression. This exhibition confirms, and in no small way contributes, to Katherine Rowntree’s observation in her essay The Spirits Are Cosmopolitan Too: Contemporary Shamanism in Malta (2017), that “Maltese people have always been bricoleurs and the construction of Malteseness a perpetual work in progress.”
Perhaps it is the bringing to light of this chameleon-like Malteseness, many times so blatantly evident to the foreign eye, yet so cunningly camouflaged through its numbing everydayness to the locals that I find intriguing in these works. Expertly fashioned through a dexterous, painterly stitching, these at times incongruous facets of local identity, attract Ramon’s interest to the point that after being discerningly filtered through his inner pop-oriented cultural membrane, they re-emerge as contemporary artefact-statements, guised as fantastical creatures through his unifying, stylistic gesture.
MeliTENSION brings together a body of work which started taking shape during Ramon’s university days and therefore reflects a young daydreamer’s romanticised vision of his home country’s cultural capital. Although thematically it verges on what is commonly considered as provincial cliche, the illustrations manage to steer away from pure visual regurgitation of the iconic Maltese bus, the gallarija (local wooden balcony), the fishing Luzzu and other symbols through an intelligent coating of whimsical narrative. This capricious ploy gives life to the illustrations to comment on the current changes in the Maltese fabric.
MeliTENSION is the second personal exhibition by the artist and is a departure from his debut exhibition entitled Epokaliss, a dark and grief-ridden exhibition which came at a difficult point in Ramon’s life. Although the colours in the current exhibition have become brighter and the attitude more playful, the themes of identity, heritage, wanderlust and loss are still very evident in these works. Ramon tells us that, “…the collection is meant to capture the whimsy and nostalgia of youth while representing a fresh take on the island and expanding on our cultural capital. The paintings express a certain playfulness. I feel Malta today is tense, hence the name, and that by engaging in more playful behaviour, we can better ourselves and our environment.”
I sincerely hope that Ramon’s invitation is taken up by all who visit this exhibition.
The MeliTENSION Series belongs to the first limited edition collection [of the same name] by RAFiott. Certified giclée fine art prints, individually numbered & signed, limited to 25 prints, archived with ArtTrust Online, and issued with bespoke Certificates of Authenticity.
Individually numbered & signed
Archived with ArtTrust Online
click on the logos above for more info
Patriot Act II
Collaboration between RAFiott & Undine LaVerve
Patriot Act 2 is an evolution of Undine La Verve’s original performance of the same name. It is a body-positive, satirical piece, that embraces gender queerness while commenting on the degradation of our national heritage and environment. It picks up on the themes of MeliTENSION while adding some much-needed levity. That’s what I love about cabaret – it helps you forget about your worries while laughing and cheering on talented artists. It allows us to make light of serious topics, creating a safe space for us to explore them, understand them and perhaps even resolve them.
The act reflects the situation the islands face today. Malta, represented by Undine’s character “Melite”, is a natural beauty. The character is introduced to the national anthem, brandishing a Maltese flag, wearing an għonnella [traditional Maltese garb]. She is then chained and jostled, echoing the violent destruction of the Villa St Ignatius balcony – a perfect example of ongoing losses. Melite proceeds to present her second costume followed by dancers obstructing our view of her face with a planning permit. This marks the beginning of the second act.
This act is more light-hearted and sarcastic. The two backing dancers who start off the show dressed in red and blue suits, have at this point stripped into their builders’ outfits, and then spend the second act being seduced by Melite’s attempts at catching their attention. Her intention being to stop from them of apparently “developing” her, as indicated on the permit – a fitting metaphor for the countless protests, petitions and objections that go unheading by the Planning Authority.
She comes up with a plan to perform a burlesque show in order to entrance the builders and win them over to her cause. At first this seems to work as she catches their gaze, although to her bafflement, their reaction to her beauty is to erect larger and larger towers which, in 5 steps, completely engulf Melite. The props used in this act depict the 5 tallest buildings in Malta in respective order:
Mercury Tower | Portmaso | 14 East |Fort Cambridge Apartments South | Fort Cambridge Apartments North
Patriot Act 2 holds a mirror to losses some of us might not give a moment’s consideration, that shape our streets, our reality and consequentially our lives. The show is tongue in cheek, which serves as a respite for anyone already mourning said losses, and breaks the ice on the topic for anyone who isn’t. Because if you can’t talk about something, how in the world are you supposed to fix it, can I get an amen?