Informational graphs and textual explanations of the core arguments presented in Changing Gear
1. Modernism and Contemporary Sophism
The colonial global expansion of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries roped in a corresponding language - a language not only reflecting but also enhancing and defending the very same interests of economic and industrial hegemony. This power relationship created a vertical-linear methodological approach in art historical studies. Artistic movements and developments were, and still are, studied within these parameters, and make reference to the associations that art from all over the globe had with cosmopolitan centres. Thus, verticality as an approach to studying international artistic relationships has long been sustained. The paradox is that postcolonial studies have appropriated that very same colonial language. However, this has been buffered by the illusion of offering a new and inclusive democratic alternative, one which nevertheless addresses the same content. The end result has been a liberal sophist language.
2. Mediterranean and Modernist Multiplicity
Throughout this project, the Mediterranean basin is here being reconsidered as a region in its own right. This section tackles the suppression of collective consciousness horizontally across the whole Mediterranean. This suppression engendered the fragmentation of Mediterranean interconnectedness which was displaced by the verticality of the ‘master-slave’ dichotomy, and such coerced the latter to identify with the former. The Europeanisation of North African cultures and their de-Ottomanisation is placed under close scrutiny in this project, with examples including Khedive’s late-nineteenth-century reforms in Egypt, the role played by artists Giuseppe Bonello, Amedeo Preziosi, Stefano Ussi, Cesare Biseo, Edmondo De Amicis, José Jiménez Aranda, Joaquín Turina y Areal, Mahmoud Said, amongst others, together with Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s Mafarka, and Giuseppe Verdi’s oscillations between Aida and Rigoletto, counterpointed by the work of Greek-Egyptian poet Constantine Cavafy.
All this is debated within the context of other major events which seem to have been cast aside from historical memory, such as the tragic end of the Paris Commune and the expansionist beginnings of Italian Unification. The latter initiated a colonial war against the Southern Italian kingdoms before expanding, a move applauded by Carlo Carrà and other futurists. It is argued that this expansion constructed an idyllic language that served a double purpose: that of Costumbrism, wherein one encounters the internal neutralization of conflicts and, simultaneously, an exotic orientalist idiom to counterbalance and justify imperial interests in colonising the land of others. This costumbrist-orientalist artistic sophism exploited the concept of ‘brotherhood’ as its complementary sibling: Italian-Libyan, French-Algerian-Tunisian-Moroccan, Spanish-Moroccan, British-Maltese, Egyptian brotherhood proclamations, festivities, and policies were excellently mosaicked into the hegemonic language of Costumbrism--Orientalism. The first challenge to this was the Mediterranean’s re-insurgence of its own anticità.
3. Baroque Appeasement and North African Parcelling
The peaceful coexistence, mutual buffering, and open war between artistic movements uprooted, purged, and displaced language, culture, and art. The Baroque idiom, together with archaeological artistic motifs and forms, became weapons for battle over the language of identity and appeasement. This section addresses Malta’s role in the military occupation of Egypt and how this is reflected in its art, with special artistic-aesthetic attention given to the Dinshaway massacre in Egypt, the Liopetri Barn massacre in Cyprus, and the Land Day massacre in Palestine. Malaga, Casablanca, Alexandria, Famagusta during Italy’s expansion onto the Fourth Shore, Libya and the Balkan wars pushing Greek art to its most committed praxis, and Henri Matisse’s sojourn in Morocco, are rhymed in Luigi Naudi’s War Memorial which was inaugurated, maybe paradoxically, at the apex of the Spanish Civil War.
4. Egyptian, Maghrebian, and North African Genocide: Death of Abel
This ‘new’ approach begins to find substance here in what is being termed as a ‘chronotopic-durée’ methodology for the study of art. This would enhance Mediterranean art studies by helping us to see it from and through a different filter. The central work here is Lazzaro Pisani’s Death of Abel which, amongst other events, is juxtaposed with the mushrooming of international exhibitions, the birth of the Venice Biennale and imperial-colonial expositions, as well as being contemporaneous to the North African, Balkan, and Palestinian genocidal warfare, which caused the collapse and fragmentation of the previous Ottoman Empire during the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth. Particular attention is given to Greek artists such as Andreas Georgiadis, Nikolas Ghyzis, Nikiforos Lytras, and others, and the Crete revolutionary wars against the Ottoman Empire. Such genocidal fragmentation opened the Pandora’s box ‘scramble for Africa’ in which the Maltese donkey incident played a tragic role in the pretext for the British intervention and ultimate occupation of Egypt, the latter which was harbouring a considerable Maltese community.
The study of art is put into this horizontal context for the first time. Different artworks previously not compared with one another will here be situated within uncomfortable contexts which were contemporary to the Paris Commune events and that disturb suppressed collective memory. These include the history of the sizeable Maltese diaspora from Egypt, which led to the Spiteri family finding itself in Greece slightly later than the Bertucchi-Schembri family which found itself in Malaga, Spain. Such eighteenth and nineteenth-century happenings reverberated well into the 1960s.
The policy of Latinism combined with the above indicated ‘brotherhood’ was a cultural and artistic tool for the so-called civilising mission of the imperialist world. Irridentist Latin Africa and the French Franco-isation of North Africa gave birth to our André Greck, Fernand Gregh, and more significant figures, whereas the Spanish Moroccan bond gave birth to Mariano Bertucchi’s role.
5. Les Gavroches and Ostrich-Subversion
In this section, art, painting, and sculpture are analysed and debated within the context of the strive for the consolidation of a nation’s identity and the fight against, and for, the ostrich’s adaptability to blind itself in the face of turmoil. Maltese masters such as Giuseppe Calì, Gianni Vella, Antonio Sciortino, Josef Kalleya, and the later generations of artists including Antoine Camilleri, Esprit Barthet, Emvin Cremona, Giorgio Preca, Carmelo Mangion, and Willie Apap, find their complementary and non-complimentary parallels in the work of the Greek Konstantinos Volonakis and in the Neapolitan-Sicilian developments engendered by Francesco Lojacono, Antonino Leto, Ettore De Maria Bergler, Michele Catti, and the more modern Elio Romano, Carmelo Comes, with Preca’s Malteseness ‘confronting’ the Sicilian Giuseppe Consoli’s sicilianità. With Sciortino’s Les Gavroches and Kristu Re, particularly with the analysis of the latter by Salvatore Gauci - the Maltese scholar who settled in Egypt during the same period as Manwel Dimech’s exile in the same country, and during the years when Egyptian leaders were brought to Malta - it seemed that Modernism, bypassing Britain’s provincialism, entered Malta clothed in the French language. The latter was also the case with G.G. Cremona’s deep evaluation of the Maltese masters. This creates fascinating counterpoints when juxtaposed with the French experience in the Maghreb. This overflowing of European and Maghrebian exchange responded to the European artistic dead-end, which provoked a novel aesthetic resurgence from North Africa's artistic development and calligraphy alternative, complemented by a reinforced return to vernacularism. The works by Kamal Boullata, Bartholomé Papadantonakis, Nikos Ghykas, Norbert Attard, Frank Portelli, Takis Vassilakis, and Ismail Shammout will here be discussed.
6. Seagull Oubli and the Crow Abuleia
This section concerns paysage as an artistic metaphor for identity and its conflicting aura with the political crises and massacres mushrooming in the Mediterranean. The metaphor of paysage struggling against a self-administered amnesia provokes a novel reading of Calì’s Death of Dragut, paralleling the previous new reading of Pisani’s Death of Abel. The Dragut historical and mythical legends, and the concepts of chance, silence, and suppression of memory, are the dominant themes found within the first section of this discussion. Here one studies how the act of forgetting, the begetting of hopelessness (as in Ġuzè Orlando’s L-Ibleh), and G.G. Cremona’s concept of characterlessness, offer a mosaic tapestry of Mediterranean art. This tapestry is conjoined with the diaspora flow of hundreds of thousands of people, multiples who were displaced and uprooted, through which art underwent the tragic process of de-memorising.
This is placed side by side with the relatively recent Toussaint Rouge massacre via Mohammed Khadda’s and M’hamed Issiakhem’s works, interweaved with the Sicilian Consoli’s response, as well as the Corfu and Cypriot perspectives. The central position is taken up by Antoine Camilleri’s pied-noir links, origins, and evolution, together with André Greck’s escape from Algiers, and with Corsica’s rebuttal proclaiming an Irredentism similar to Malta’s pre-war stance. The Shakespearean character of the 8th/9th May 1945, Victory day for Europe, Massacre day for North Africa, particularly Algiers, is seen from the perspective of Kateb Yacine, Bachis Yelles, and the loud war-time emptiness which ultimately led to an existential silence. Camilleri’s, Sliman Mansour’s, Christoforos Savva’s, Benanteur’s, Georghios Georghiou’s, and others’ works exploiting the deep silence and texture of sand, soil, and clay, encapsulate the richness of Mediterranean creativity.
Authenticity, whatever that means, finds itself being paralleled by the troubadour - Għana - taqsima - ksur - takht - cabaret - lumpenport culture throughout the Mediterranean. One notices how the official state recognition of such sub-cultures neutralises all their Samsonic power. Mohamed Naghi’s and Kamal el- Telmissany’s positions are confronted with those of Deniz Martinez, Adane Mustapha, Choukri Mesli, the Algerian Aouchem Group, the Moroccan Casablanca School, some opting for a militant approach refuting European influence for a ‘purist’ alternative, whilst others were criticised for succumbing to European globalisation. Amidst all these interweaving moments - calligraphic-abstraction, Portelli’s contourism, Algerian tattoo-ism, and Cremona’s Broken Glass idiom - Mohammed Khadda’s and Abdallah Benanteur’s aesthetic militantism must be taken into account.
It is fascinating to gauge how the tree played a dominant role in this militantism. The tree became a definition of struggle and identity, as well as a tangible methodology sustaining the idea of ‘going back to roots’. Anton Agius’s olive root sculptures, Khadda’s and Walid Abu Shakra’s olive trees, Konstantinos Parthenis’s equation of the olive tree with sacrifice, Joseph L. Mallia's trees, and Boullata’s aesthetic appropriation of uprooting is a dominant feature in practically all Mediterranean artistic cultures. Besides the olive tree, the cactus tree is transformed, as read in Giacomo Giardina's poetry and seen in Agammemnon Memos Makris's sculptures, into a subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, deep corporeal reality in the aestheticisation of political struggle.
Toni Spiteri’s "ritorno alle origine" confronts and re-qualifies thus the modernist idea of ‘multiple modernities’ in its most diverse forms and tonalities. This concept provokes a changing gear for our understanding of nationality and frontiers/borders, two legal fictions that become mental fictions were it not for the hegemonic interest of the powers to be. Such fictions fictionalise the idea that all strive towards some kind of authentic beginnings bracketed within militarised frontiers. The question here does not stop at the level of aesthetics, but it also engulfed by and engulfs the actual materiality and material realisation of a work.
European methodology was refused together with its philosophy. Thus, a proclamation to ‘unlearn’ was unleashed throughout the Southern Mediterranean, meeting, however, a fascinating blague of destiny, since such ‘unlearning’ also formed part, in spite of everything, of the modernist European development. A conscious and politically committed programme for the de-skilling of established aesthetics was initiated, with Farid Belkahia, Ahmed Charkaoui, Mohamed Melehi, and led by a number of others.
With all the contradictions, mistakes, misunderstandings, debates, and ensuing schisms, this de-skilling process opened the gates for the official recognition of vernacular art which, together with calligraphic Modernism, was powerful enough to offer itself as an alternative to European globalised cosmopolitanism. In this manner, the North African South Mediterranean resurgence of primitive faktura is transfigured into an aesthetic weapon against European domination, at least during the initial stages of this faktura’s consolidation.
7. Authenticity, Peripherality and Mediterranean Multiplicity
8. Oriental Costumbrism and Costumbrist Orientalism. Post-Colonial Sophist Pilgrimage to the West
The relationship between Costumbrism and Orientalism is here unpacked further, bringing them closer than ever before via a subtractive analytical filter, and hence equating ‘multiple orientalisms’ with today’s postcolonial concept of ‘multiple-modernities’. Mariano Fortuny, Eugène Fromentin, Jean-Paul Laurens, Giulio Rosati, Léon François Comerre, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Fausto Zonaro, Rudolf Ernst, and Wassily Kandinsky are discussed in context with Maltese orientalists and orientalist works, including those by Amedeo Preziosi, Giuseppe Bonello, Antonio Schranz, Henri Zarb, Edward Caruana Dingli, Robert Caruana Dingli, Gianni Vella, the Spanish Bertucchi of Maltese descent, the Greek Symeon Savvidas and Kostantinos Maleas, the Sardinian Giuseppe Biasi.
Egyptian and Sicilian Surrealism, with the former’s ‘Long Live Degenerate Art’ and the latter’s ‘Sicilian Manifesto’, together with the futurist onslaught, buffered the costumbrist-orientalist aesthetic domination. The Islamic Non-European source awaited its postcolonial rehabilitation as the anti-European aesthetic counterpoint, proclaiming a utopian Pan-Arabic and Pan-Islamic global art. This novel strive towards another version of globalisation was exacerbated by the fragmentation caused by Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus and the Mediterranean schisms of Greek and Sicilian Neo-Byzantism, Maltese Neo-Baroque and Neo-Megalithicism, Maghrebian pre-Islamic Berber reignition, Egyptian Neo-Pharaonic art, and other examples of the return to past artistic and cultural traditions.
The anticipated rebirth of a non-Western European art alternative found its realisation in the work of several artists, among them in that of the Egyptian Hamed Abdalla, the Moroccan Mohammed Chabâa, the Lebanese Stelio Scamanga, the Greek Parthenis, the Palestinian Boullata, and the Syrian Fateh al-Moudarres. Research has uncovered a fascinating link with the Rome Academy of Fine Arts, a central and dominant institution for Malta’s art-historical development, and a number of artists, namely the Iraqi Hafez al-Droubi, the Tunisian Nourredine Khayachi, the Lebanese Moustafa Farrouk, the Egyptian Ragheb Ayad, the Sicilians Domenico Maria Lazzaro, Eugenio Russo, and Carmelo Abate, the Sardinians Stanislao Dessy and Giovanni Romagna, the Greek Yiannis Moralis, the Syrian Louay Kayyali and Abdelqader Arnaout, the Moroccan Mohamed Melehi, the Palestinian Ismail Shammout, Laula Shawa, Kamal Boullata, the Libyan Ali Gana, Taher al-Maghribi, and Ali al-Bani.
The Western dominant characterisation, definition, and categorisation of Modernism was challenged by the Maltese G.G. Cremona’s concept of ‘characterlessness’ and the Sicilian Gesualdo Manzella Frontini’s "mancanza di omogeneità"; a dialectical confrontation to aged classifications of established aesthetic norms. In the twentieth century, the Greek-Munich, the Maltese-Roman, the Egyptian-French, and the Moroccan-Spanish bonds started to disintegrate.
The Arab Renaissance and its Egyptian counterpoint of ‘Degenerate art’ swept all over the Mediterranean, causing an eclectic upheaval which ushered in a parallel, complementary, and conflicting development of highly contradictory artistic flows. These ultimately reached an advanced level of abstract art in a manner often sub-textured with symbolism, as present in the works of Ghykas, Cremona, Alfred Chircop, Parthenis, Anton Inglott, Giorgios Gounaropoulos, together with the metaphorising of the paysage as seen in the works by Maleas, George Fenech, Panayiotis Tetsis, and Epameinondas Thomopoulos, and with the idyllic realism of the Neapolitan artist Gennaro Villani and the Sicilian Roberto Rimini.
Nostalgia, historicity, vernacular idyllia and realism, patriotism, political allegiances, shifting of sands and power, all centred around kaleidoscopic oscillations between modern movements, modern methodologies, and modernists tendencies edging themselves within the conflict between Militant Realism and Costumbrist Nostalgic Realism, with the representation of the għonnella playing a significant role. All this was occurring concurrently to the presence of the Nazarene philosophy, Calì’s romanticism, Verismo Realism seen in the work of Lazzaro Pisani, the Italians Silvestro Lega and Filippo Liardo, and the Catalonian Santiago Rusiñol, as well as to the Greek Munich-linked realism, the purist aesthetic, Greek mythology, Berber resurgence, and Egyptian Pharoanism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: a new language was dredged, the effects of which changed the very focal point of thought itself.
9. De-Europeanisation and Characterlessness
10. Institutional Hegemony
The radical contradictory development of schools, movements, institutions, and art groups throughout the Mediterranean is debated in this category. The Greek Techne, the Neo-Byzantine upsurge, Ussama Makdisi’s ‘ecumenical framework’, European Orientalism and de-Orientalism, together with an unprecedented art of radical commitment, became tangibly manifest. The filtering process towards a de-Europeanisation of art, a process which nonetheless exploited distinct European categories in its beginnings, is discussed in relation to Osman Hemdi Bey, Azouaou Mammeri, Abdelhalim Hemche, and others.
The political-aesthetic mistake of displacing class colonial interests with those of the burgeoning twentieth-century illusion of national interests is underlined. All schools are intertwiningly debated in context; the Cairo 1908 School of Fine Arts, Malta’s 1908 Malta Art Amateur Association, Malta’s Pictoria Artis Schola, Scuola di Belle Arte, the Accademia sul Naturale, the Malta University of Literature, University School of Design, the School of Art (heir to the previous Italianate bond with the Rome Accademia), found a strange co-existence with the British 1852 Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce and the British Academy of Arts in Rome. The Greeks roped in the German-Munich tradition establishing the École Polytechnique in 1835. 1851 witnessed the foreign-oriented Société des Beaux Arts, the Institute de Carthage in 1894, the Tunisian Centre d’Art in 1923, and in 1922 the French established the Moroccan Association des peintres et sculpteurs.
In reaction, Spain replicated the latter by sending Bertucchi to organise the Spanish-Bertucchi Moroccan School during Franco’s dictatorship. However, it found itself changing gear and moving away from these associations during the post-independence period to become the Escuela de Artes Indígenas de Tetuán. This was later amalgamated, together with other national institutions such as the French oriented Casablanca École des Beaux Arts, into the fascinating radical anti-European Casablanca School of Modern Art, an appropriate response to the hegemonic 'brotherhood' concept.
11. Mediterranean Scram
The Mediterranean re-gearing of artistic movements and institutions which confronted the embedded colonial schools witnessed a wave of fatal contradictory beginnings of a non-Western influx in the arts, finding its initial point, alongside others, with the problematic inclusion of African art during the birth of the Venice Biennale. The pre-war Mediterranean Academy project by Wijdeveld-Mendelsohn-Ozenfant that ruled out any African involvement, the 1922 Italian Fascist Venice Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte, the establishment of the Museo dell’Impero Romano, the 1937 Mostra Augustea della Romanità, the Carmelo Borg Pisani re-naming of the Accademia di Belle Arti, Luigi Maria Ugolini’s and Giulio Giglioli’s Mediterranean aesthetic philosophy with Malta playing a dominant archaeological role, found their colonial development in post-war Europe and the Mediterranean, witnessing an unprecedented upsurge of riots, revolts, and revolutions that radically changed the Mediterranean mosaic. The late 1940s post-war period opened with the massacres during the Greek civil war and the consolidation of the Franco dictatorship in Spain. 1955 witnessed the independence or integration programmes in Malta and Cyprus, as well as Morocco’s and Tunisia’s independence period and the horrendous escalation of the Algerian one. 1956 proclaimed Egypt as a Nasser-ian non-European nation after the 1953 Officers’ Coup, a situation replicated some years later in Gaddafi’s Libya. The then powerful anti-colonial Non-Aligned Movement chose Egypt as its hub in 1964, the same year of Malta’s independence. Italy, becoming increasingly aware of lost cultural grounds, aggressively re-ignited the pre-war Mediterranean Art Academy, this time opting for a North African facet stemming from Palermo.
Morocco responded through its own Rabat Rencontre Internationale and Egypt with its own Alexandria Biennale, and later also the Cairo Biennale. This was a far cry, although a bonded one, from the Sisyphus strive for a complete cultural overhaul and from the renewal envisaged decades before by the Egyptian Amin Rihani. The pre-war colonial umbrella gave rise to a mushrooming of Europeanised patronage systems such as the Egyptian Société des amis de l’art and its annual Salon du Caire, which was replicated in Tunisia and Lebanon. These had to buffer the rise of radical groups such as Art et Liberté, the Egyptian Artists’ League, and the 1944 Egyptian Art Group, established practically contemporaneously to the Greek 1949 Extremists, Harmos, and Stathmi groups, the Maltese 1947 Bottega Group, which later evolved into the Maltese Modern Art Circle in 1952, all of which were paralleled by the Tunisian Group of 10. Fascist Italy’s aspirations for a Mediterranean Romanità and Sciortino’s struggle for the global expansion of his British Academy of Arts in Rome, sound extremely anachronistic, particularly when taking into account the contemporary French and Spanish loss of territory in the Maghreb and the British losses in Egypt and the Middle East.
12. Seduction, Vernacular Authenticity:
Lines and Bulls
This section will deal with the rise of the vernacular, the re-search towards calligraphy, the crises of Greek Neo-Byzantism, that of Maltese Neo-Baroque and the Egyptian Neo-Pharaonic, and how Neo-Orientalism meets Mahmoud Mukhtar’s, Telmissany’s, Cremona’s, Parthenis’s, Gounaropolous’s, and Fotis Kontoglou’s oeuvres, the same which later found themselves interconnected and confronted by Melehi’s, Belkahia’s and Mohammed Chabâa’s North African response. At the same time, due to many reasons that will be discussed, Socialist Realism gained ground and rooted itself in Greek art, especially in Greek Partisan art and also in North African independence art movements, forging an aesthetic alliance against the cosmopolitan powers. Western Hegemony took this radical development seriously by pushing forward its own aesthetic policy of Abstract Expressionism. In reaction to this, the artists Yorgos G. Dimou, Christos Danglis, Yannis Kephallinos, Abed Abedi, and Moudarres offered alternatives.
Within this context, an emblematic category manifests itself: the female figure. The female figure starts to be transmogrified away from its previous mythological mythic idyllic nostalgia into a harsh deformation and disfigurement. The female body is transformed into a body of agony as in M’hamed Issakheim’s, Adamantios Diamantis’s and Belkahia's works, coupled with Giorgos Bouzianis’s deformation related to the Americanisation-consumerist post-war upheaval. With many artists such as Mahmoud Said, Amy Nimr, Ramses Younane, Belkahia, Yannis Tsarouchis, Esprit Barthet, Camilleri, and Adam Wanly, modern urbanism enters the artistic post-war Mediterranean scene, often aesthetically alienated by an Americanisation-globalisation imagery. Camilleri confronts this by going back to the female body as the source of fertility - cosmic fertility - an element found also in the work of other Mediterranean artists such as Adam Henein, Honorio García Condoy, Mona Saudi, and Gabriel Caruana. Ultimately, through this Ithaca voyage, Chant Avedissian, Kheira Flidjani, Youssef Nabil, Huda Lutfi, Khosrow Hassanzdeh, and others, succeeded in giving the last death-knell to Said’s interpretation of Orientalism and the twinning of Orientalism with Costumbrism, the analysis of which is a core argument presented in the Changing Gear project.
13. Mediterranietà Calligraphy
It is being here argued that vernacularism sibbled with calligraphy was one of the most important double-railed alternatives to Western hegemony. Both offered a modernist alternative to the dead end of Modernism. At the same time, calligraphy and vernacularism encountered the introduction of materiality as a faktura-aesthetic category. Not the ‘abstract’ materiality of the Bauhaus, but a grounded, rooted materiality of bones, sand, soil, clay, and metal as in Camilleri’s, Boullata’s, and Toni Pace's work. This development was umbrellaed by profound megalithic symbolism, as in Isabelle Borg's and Mona Saudi’s art, whereas Kalleya regenerated the idea and praxis of the act of scratching as the primordial link with the cosmos. Mangion’s violent silence and isolation, Ġoxwa Borg’s encaustic Mediterranean act, Agius’s olive roots, and Gabriel Caruana’s volcanic Mediterranietà, contributed to the new radical utterance which found reflections and mutual echoes in the work of Samir Rafi, Ragheb Ayad, Francesco Schiliro, Nikos Nicolaou, and Yiannis Moralis.
North African culture manifested its own spiritual materiality with its berber tattoo praxis and skill in crafting skin, leather, hides, and copper. Primordiality, antiquity, Megalithicism, combined with the eternal return towards the first logos utterance, brought back the power of calligraphy, mosaicked with the vernacular and with materiality: Spyros Vasiliou, Michael Kashalos, Theophilos Hatzimihail, Preca, Baya Mahieddine, Christoforos Savva, Daoud Zalatimo, Khalil Halabi, Ibrahim Ghannam, Yannis Tsarouchis, Giuseppe Biasi, Eugenio Tavolara, Moulay Ahmed Drissi, Abdel Had El-Gazzar, Maria Fioraki, Isabelle Borg, Willie Apap, Oliver Friggieri, were roped in with artists as diverse as Nicène Kossentini and Manolis Pyladakis, Eleni Paschalidou-Zongolopoulou, Melehi, Nja Mahdaoui, Sliman Mansour, Samia Zaru, Rachid Koraïchi, Kamel Yahiaoui, Khadda, Abdelkebir Khatibi, Anthony Catania, Samir al-Sayegh, Nasser al-Salem, Boullata, Osman Waqialla, Cardamatis, Chircop, Abdalla, Cremona, Moralis, Attard, Madiha Umar, Joseph L. Mallia, Khaled Ben Slimane, Hakim Ghazali, Rallis Kopsidis, and others.
14. War and Class Upheavals
This section addresses the Greek, Maltese, Egyptian, Cypriot, and the Maghrebian pre-war political aesthetic crises, political socio-economic restlessness, and the role and reaction of the arts. ‘Megali’ authoritarianism, irredentist resurgence, and the burgeoning of regimes against their utopian counterparts all arguably led to the most horrendous dystopic-chronotopic existence of humankind ever. The tremendous displacement of Greeks from Ottoman-Turkish spaces annihilated the Megali dream once and for all. Likewise, the massive corresponding uprooting of North African territories such as Egypt with the radical shifting of sands and borders amounted to a global shifting that had its own unprecedented and corresponding artistic radical changes.
Metaxas, the Third Reich, the Third Hellenic Civilisation, the Italian Fourth Shore, Mare Nostrum, Entartete Kunste, the Greek Techne-Neoi militant artistic journal, the Egyptian ‘Long Live Degenerate Art’ backlash, Marinetti in Egypt, Carrà in Malta, the fall of the Spanish Republic tsunamied in the brilliant caricatures of the Maltese Alfred Gerada, which were countered by those of the fascist Paolo Consiglio. Maltese artistic allegiances to fascist Rome were dominant in the first half of the twentieth century. The activity of Borg Pisani links with that of the Sicilian Nunzio Sciaverello (the future director of the Catania Academy of Fine Arts), and with that of the Sardinian Salvatore Fancello which confronted that of their Greek colleagues during Italy’s invasion of Greece, which included Christos Kapralos, Tsarouchis, Yannis Kefallinos, and Konstantinos Grammatopoulos. Italy’s defeat in Greece invited Nazi Germany into the Balkans and to Malta at the same time that Germany was also invading North Africa. A whole Mediterranean odissea: Italianate Malta in crisis, the Cypriot Greek enosis, and the Oktovriana revolt against Britain. Art, censorship, and massacres under the British Mediterranean policy of ‘Palmerocracy’ are here debated within their artistic context.
15. The Unbearability of Reality
All these events engendered the birth of underground, concentration camp, prison, exile, and post-war art. The Greek post-WWII civil war was present in the work of Valias Semertzidis, Kefallinos, Dimitris Megalidis, Tsarouchis, Vaso Katraki, Vasiliou, Anastasios Alevizos (Tassos), Fotis Kontoglou, Kapralos, and Loukia Mangiorou, who were confronted by the most deafening Maltese silence. The post-war Egyptian crisis, ultimately lead to the prosecution of artists in Gamal Abdel Nasser's Egypt. Social and Socialist Realism continued to strive against the onslaught of American Abstract Art. Realism challenged the apocalyptic post-war wreck with the return to a form of Renaissance-Realism seen in the work of the Sardinian Delitala and, to a certain extent, in that of the Syrian Kayyali.
The heaviness of labour, the theme of work, and working-class solidarity started to seep back in with artists such as Camilleri, Georgiadis, Portelli, and Epameinondas Thomopoulos. This theme complimented the tragedy of exile, torture, and post-war exile as seen in the work of Belkahia, Dimitris Katsikogiannis, Danklis, Chabâa, Giorgos Farsakidis, and Agammemnon Memos Makris. All this erupted at the same time of the final affann of Italianate Malta, which ended with the death of the aesthetic dictatorship of the Anglophile Caruana Dingli. A new reality demanded a change of gear.
The North African radical changes, and the birth of Algerian national art in particular, gave an enigmatic paradoxical re-birth to the nineteenth-century art of Claude-Joseph Vernet, Eugène Fromentin, and Nasreddine Dinet, which developed contemporaneously to the Abstract Art monopoly, a monopoly which was, however, nearing its own aesthetic dead-end: Orestis Kanellis, Athanase Apartis, Kapralos, Francesco Ciusa, and Toni Pace were offering alternatives.
The cactus tree confronted the bulldozer, and in front of Achilleus Apergis’s palaces of nightmare, Belkahia’s deformed tortured bodies, Bachir Yellès’s and Nimr’s Bosch’s, ‘unconscious’ and Preca’s aliens, the Mediterranean ‘mother-gaze’ of Barthet, Georgiadis, Delitala, Kayyali, Ahmed Benyahia, Ahlam Shibli, Elio Romano, and that of Carmelo Comes, gazed onto the unbearability of reality.
Conclusion: When the Scratch Becomes a Sign
The affann, from nothing into nothing, led to the naïve being twinned with the archaic: Camilleri’s last works, Moralis’s, and those of other artists hovering onto an ex-voto character, Vassiliou’s, Kostas Klouvatos's, and Caruana’s infantile mastery, Baya’s, Melehi’s, and Lameras Lazaros's hidden totem-language, and Antonios Sohos’s archaism found themselves disputing with that of Kalleya and Russo.