Known more for its idyllic beaches and stunning architecture than its art, Malta nevertheless harbours a bountiful creative scene. At the hub of it all is the Sliema-based Lily Agius Gallery, whose inspired rotation of engaging exhibitions serves as an apt representation of the island’s soaring talent. Here, the gallery’s founder, Londoner Lily Agius, shares what she loves about Malta, as well as the local artists to watch.
How would you describe Malta’s contemporary art scene?
I was introduced to the Maltese art scene at university, a world which was brought to life for me through visits to various artists’ studios. Fifteen years later, I am still impressed with local talent and pleased to see the public more engaged with it than ever before. I founded the first Maltese art newspaper, Artpaper, last year to further expose local talent, opinion and ideas on art and design.
Why did you choose to settle in Malta?
I came to Malta one summer to visit my father, who's Maltese, after my first year of university in Manchester in the UK. I felt at home with the Mediterranean way of life, so I decided to stay and continued with my degree at the University of Malta.
Who are the local artists to watch?
There is a lot of local talent but at the moment I am particularly focused on two Maltese artists: the recent MCAST graduate Lonkirkop, who Lily Agius Gallery exhibited with a successful solo show at our art café, La Bottega Art Bistro, in Valletta last November. The other is an outstanding sculptor, John Paul Azzopardi, who has recently turned his hand to painting. In 2010, MUŻA (National Museum of Fine Arts, Malta) acquired a sculpture called Curved Silence to be part of their contemporary art collection, and his work was exhibited at the 2017 Venice Biennale as part of the collective Maltese pavilion presentation: Homo Melitensis, an incomplete inventory in 19 chapters. I think both artists have a bright future ahead of them.
Which upcoming exhibitions at Lily Agius Gallery are you most excited about?
I'm currently preparing the next three solo exhibitions: for the Paris-based Maltese painter Goxwa; Gozitan artist John Paul Azzopardi with a collection of paintings and sculpture; and paintings by a Gozo-based Italian painter Luca Indraccolo. All exhibitions are exciting projects, and these artists are particularly enjoyable to work with, which is always important.
La Bottega Art Bistro will continue with a series of emerging artist shows and events in the autumn. I am also looking forward to completing an artist-in-residence project in Floriana in the near future!
Why did you decide to open an art gallery?
It’s my dream office situation—to be surrounded by art. Working out of my gallery also makes it simple and quick for me to set up and host exhibitions with the right lighting, hanging and sound system. It is also the perfect place to work on my art publication and meet like-minded people on daily basis. It keeps me busy.
What does your ideal day off look like?
Any spare time I get is spent with my three-year-old daughter and fiancé. We usually drive to a different part of the island, like Fawwara, Dingli and Għar Lapsi to walk around and have lunch. If I’m up early enough on a Sunday in winter, I like to go to the flea market in Birgu—I’m always on the hunt for something original. Some evenings I head to Valletta for an exhibition opening, the theatre or dinner with friends.
What’s the first place you take friends to who are visiting from abroad?
There's a lot to see, but Mdina, Rabat and Valletta for popular historical sites such as the cathedrals, catacombs, and museums are usually first on the list. As well as Senglea by ferry or luzzu (traditional fishing boat) for lunch or dinner. Each place takes on a different character at night, especially the flood-lit bastions on the Valletta harbour, the quiet winding roads of Mdina, and colourful church lights in summer.
Are you an art lover or culture vulture holidaying in Malta? Well, you’ll be pleased to find that this Mediterranean island may be small, but it packs a punch when it comes to art and culture. Here are six recommended destinations to add to your itinerary to experience the best of Malta’s art scene.