Making His Mark – New Valletta Art Exhibition Is A Shrine To Philosophy

When asked to think of “sacred spaces”, places of religious worship will spring to mind for most who were brought up of faith, whether that may be a temple, mosque or church. But to ravers, it could be the club. To football lovers, the stadium. And to art lovers, the gallery space.

Contemporary artist Mario Cassar has merged both senses of spirituality in his latest solo exhibition ‘SACRED RUBBINGS’, which opened to the public on Wednesday under Covid restrictions at DESKO gallery in Valletta.

It wouldn’t be the only exhibition on in the Capital at the moment. In fact, the city is awash with a rejuvenated programme of exciting events. The Maltese arts scene has come back stronger than ever before after a slump caused by the partial lockdown which culled exhibitions like {v} at Spazju Kreattiv— a crying shame considering its themes, scale, variety and caliber of curation and artists involved.


Still from {v} performance piece ‘Did You Come?’, Charlene Galea 2021. Image by Elisa von Brockdorff.
Artistic entities such as Artz ID have done all they can to keep spirits up in the arts scene, and done a stellar job in doing so. They’ve picked up the slack when galleries had to shut up shop, documenting exhibitions on camera for online “viewing rooms” available to explore on their online platform.

Now with “real life” exhibitions popping back up again, we can indulge in being in the presence of fine art in the gallery space.

Mario Cassar’s latest works are multilayered graphite rubbings- or frottage – taken from textured surfaces of sacred importance. This could be a Floriana memorial, gravestone in Gozo or a carved decoration in Old Jerusalem. In Paris, the Gozitan artist, b.1975, took rubbings from car parks in the suburbs, in a bid to connect with the historical yet urban soul of the metropolitan city. The graphite rubbings are selective, and pick up only the motifs that the artist wants to show through on paper. The compositions are carefully balanced and detailed, each one a complete story in its own right. They’re graphic, poster-worthy, peppered with typography, scribbles and hints- clues to the undecipherable secrets of the world.


Mario Cassar, ‘Untitled XVI’, 2021
The graphite impressions on white paper act as a cryptic backdrop for the artist’s embellishments in red ink – a heart here, a key there… The symbolic cherries on the cake. The compositions are further garnished with quotes, also in red, by philosopher Michel Foucault.

“Power exists only when it is put into action” reads ‘Untitled XX’ on closer inspection of the annotations that wrap around the square of tangled mark-making, manifested in Cassar’s Gozo studio. 


Mario Cassar, ‘Untitled XX’, 2021.

The “love-heart” motif and the sacré-cœur are recurring symbols appearing in SACRED RUBBINGS. A red heart is a double-edged sword, representing both love and sorrow. The artwork ‘Untitled XI’ in particular bears resemblence to the the drawings of Tracey Emin, also known for her use of text within her often heart-wrenching work.


Tracey Emin, ‘My Heart Is With You Always’, 2015. Embroidery thread on cotton.
This palette of dark greys and blood red makes for stark contemporary viewing. Notable is the wall-consuming scale of three of the twenty-three pieces. Sprawled across the white walls in pristine white frames, the larger works in particular are reminiscent of street art. Banksy’s ‘Girl with Balloon’ springs to mind, a series of murals first appearing in 2002 which have since become synonymous with social issues, including the Syrian refugee crisis.


Banksy – ‘Girl with Balloon’. Waterloo Bridge, London.
Banksy’s ‘Girl with Balloon’ was even painted in Bethlehem in 2006, which was one of the stops on Cassar’s 2019 trip to Palestine when creating part of this particular body of work.

Both conceptual artists question the world and its mysteries. War, religion, money… 

Cassar’s back catalogue includes public art, performance and video art, as well as the more traditional mediums of painting and drawing. His work has been exhibited in Northern America, Europe and the Middle East. At forty-six years of age, and his thirteenth solo show, SACRED RUBBINGS is a landmark exhibition in the artist’s life. The works are executed with confidence and mastership of the technique used. They are sure of themselves, putting the viewer at ease and in a position to interpret for themselves. It’s safe to say they are the works of an artist at the prime of his career.


Gallery visitors at the exhibition SACRED RUBBINGS in Valletta.
In over twelve months considerably lacking in travel, Mario Cassar’s latest offerings will take the gallery-goer on a journey from the narrow streets of Jerusalem to the backstreets of Paris, leading the way through the doors of perception. SACRED RUBBINGS may well leave the gallery-goer thanking God for art- whoever that God may be.

SACRED RUBBINGS is free to visit and runs from the 5th of May to the 19th of May at DESKO, Studio 104, 104 St Lucia Street, Valletta.

Opening Hours are Tuesday – Friday 11:30am – 2pm & 4pm – 7pm. Saturdays 11:30am – 4pm. More information is available on the gallery’s Facebook page.

Nicole Parnis

Nicole is a culture writer and lifestyle journalist with a passion for fashion, food, music and anything retro. She indulges by thrifting her Sundays away at flea markets, followed by a cappuccino or two in a pretty village square.

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