The streets of the Maltese towns and villages are on the one hand filled with numerous huge historical walls, on the other hand they are just building everywhere. There is construction work all over and you can hardly get around a corner without having to pass through any scaffolding. A gulp of historical and new, but a lot is either in renovation or some kind of left in the building process. The individual neighborhoods or towns or districts – whatever you would call it, because somehow the whole island is just a single large castle-church-city – but really everywhere all these houses and walls are kept strictly simple and boring single-coloured in a square-shaped perspective. According to the island’s own blocks mined in the quarry. The around 360 churches and all the other historical buildings are undoubtedly imposing, interesting and beautiful, but a lot also just look simply quite the same.
What surprised us, but also disturbed us, was that with so many walls and concrete blocks and large-format cement barriers, but especially with so many empty and half-decayed houses, we could hardly find graffiti. So not even tags or any other scratches. What’s this all about? Is it not wanted and gets vehemently suppressed or is there simply no scene? Not at all! There is certainly an extremely interesting scene with cool artists such as well-represented great sprayer COOKER, filigree drawing muralist and tattooist JUSTIN BONNICI aka JUSTINK’S AND MURALS or fabulous painter TWITCH. The team of ADD MORE COLORS had even organised a legendary annual Streetart Festival for three years. The aspect about the spots is another question and a little bit more difficult. But over the years enthusiastic creators have repeatedly drummed together creative artists and groups from a wide variety of alternative areas, in order to be able to beautify the island and the cityscape, at least in some selected and tolerated places. These events and activities are nevertheless rare and such events are and were simply magnificently unique.
One of these notable happenings must have been the aforementioned Malta Streetart Festival. The website of the last event in 2015 has been preserved as a reminder and is certainly worth a look. It all started in 2013 as the Sliema Streetart Festival in the district of the same name. The Maltese crew of ADD MORE COLORS have combined all kinds of underground styles, from graffiti to tattoo, to handmade market or integrated comic convention, and in addition, artists from all over the world came to visit Malta. And not just painters. On stage international bands performed great music of all genres. A somewhat hidden promenade wall in Sliema still testifies to this small conquest of space, since the painting area has remained and new works have been brushed and sprayed over the old ones again and again. Nice, a new spot! And that’s how it is, the artworks are mostly concentrated on single hot spots.
The team of ADD MORE COLORS organised the first Streetart Festival in 2013. A 3 km long promenade wall in Sliema was transformed into an urban museum of the master class. International artists such as SOFLES, DAVID WALKER, SHAKA, MR DHEO, STEVE LOCATELLI, SMATES, PARIZ ONE, KAYO NATEZ, HESK ONE and BROHEMIA took part. Two other events followed in 2014 and 2015 with respective great warm ups at abandoned hotel buildings at the White Rocks in Pembroke and at the Jerma Palace in Marsaskala. Artists involved in 2014: WILD DRAWINGS, TONY CUBOLIQUIDO, TELMO MIEL, SOFLES, BOND TRULUV, PANTONE, MTO, PARIZ ONE, VERA BUGATTI, VALENTINA SFORZINI, ALEX MAKSIOV, KATKA, SONE ONER, ANTOINE STEVENS, SHAKA, CLAP and XI-DESIGN. In 2015 the theme of the festival was named “Knights” and these artists have been involved: WILD DRAWING, SMUG, MR DHEO, ODEITH, PARIZ ONE, TONY CUBOLIQUIDO, TANK, BOND, TIM TIM TIMMEY, KAS ART, SONE ONER and ZAG & SIA.
However, it’s just that in other Mediterranean cities, compared to Malta, there is always something mixed up on the walls just everywhere. Barcelona is covered with urban art, in Montpellier the graffiti teams are battling throughout the city and Thessaloniki is just over and over painted. Although Malta is an island in the Mediterranean south of Italy, it looks a little different here. Perhaps precisely because it is an island state with just 500,000 inhabitants, a little cut off and in its own development. Along the coast you can drive around the main island in four to five hours. So the area is not large and has been kept in conservative structures for many ages. Nevertheless, the alternative community as far as street art is concerned has just managed to conquer a few free spaces. Really lot of respect to ADD MORE COLORS and all the artists mentioned so far! The existing spots and what has been painted meanwhile is definitely awesome!
The few kind of hotel cemeteries or left construction sites should definitely also be mentioned. On Malta there are actually quite a lot abandoned hotel buildings throughout the island, on a handfull you can find spray can art . At an area on the north coast with a hotel complex that has never been finished, there are nice pieces in the half-decayed shell buildings. Like mentioned before, there have been in two years graffiti warm ups for the MALTA STREETART FESTIVAL at especially some of those forgotten hotels. Lost Place Graffiti in the Mediterranean Sea. Unfortunately we didn´t have enough time to check out those places. If you do, go for a visit! One space we definitely saw while passing was close to Bugibba in the south-east direction. But there are some more places. By bus you can get there and everywhere else on the island really quite easily, most of the times you will have to walk also a little bit, but it’s never real long distance. With a rental car you are definitely faster, don’t have to wait and you are more flexible. Just to say again, you can get around the island in four hours, so bus is definitely sufficient and better for the environment. If you choose the as well cheap rental car option, a brief reminder: left-hand traffic.
An easy to reach super hot spots is definitely the Msida Skate Park, which is located in the middle of a motorway loop. Alone the park is already stocked with great works of art from top to bottom. But much more in the street network, however, there are also other spaces, tunnels and hallways where the walls are decorated with magnificent masterpieces. This spot can only be reached from different sides by longer underpasses and through angled passages under the highway strip. The question of how these small tunnels are designed is probably unnecessary: Of course bombed with terrific can art and here something new is getting continously added!
The Malta Skateboard Association or short MTA takes care of the Msida Skatpark and the organisation of jams and events taking place there. A look at their site is also worthwhile if you are a fan of this sporting activity.
As I said, we walked or drove through countless roads on this island. There are many beautiful buildings, but it was also kind of sad and depressing. It is not a question about defacing an historical church or a medieval fortress with beautiful to ugly paintings. These buildings should for sure remain as they are. But it’s about the other countless meters of bare walls of eternal construction sites, depressing ugly bridge pillars or grey concrete block buildings that have been empty for ages. Almost nowhere you can see a bit of color. Except for that monotonous ochre. Of course, we still found time by time some resistant and rebellious little gimmicks. Not always great, but at least some presence.
Another example of what really hit us a lot and what also will give you some hints about the prevailing politics there and the handling of probably art and development in general, but especially with the abstract and alternative forms. In the Sliema district of Tower Road, a fantastic double-pack mural was created in 2015 by the French artist MTO as part of the already mentioned Streetart Festival. The real genius of the story is that the other part of the wall is not in Malta, but in Sapri in southern Italy. In Malta is just part one of the picture. A grey-bearded man climbs into a hole or tube on the first mural section at Regina Car Park in Sliema. You can see him from behind as he climbs in. In Sapri in Italy is the counterpart and you can see him coming out of the tunnel.
Through an artistically created wormhole, the boundaries of space and time are creatively blown up, but also with a clear focus on the current problematic situation of migrants who leave the island and neighbouring areas and cross the Mediterranean to find a better life in northern Europe. “The Mediterranean Door” was performed for the Sliema Arts Festival in 2015. A fabulous masterpiece of painting skill and simply an innovative idea of a different kind. The artist MTO was invited at that time to Malta by one of the island’s own top street artists, JAMES MICALLEF GRIMAUD, thanks to funds from the Sliema council. MTO wrote on Facebook as well about the artwork: “Malta takes the dead and sends the living to Italy”.
Many cities worldwide have already realized since quite a while how much art and especially urban art or street art can not only attract tourists and interested people but also contribute to a certain fame for the place. Malta has not yet understood this to some extent and probably does not want to do so any time soon. Malta is in many ways rather conservative. It really hurt our souls when we saw the mural during our visit in August 2020. And remember briefly the sentences I had written before. The whole island is teeming with bare walls. Exactly on THIS spot of the great mural with the man climbing into the hole, exactly on this spot a annoyingly stupid advertising poster was paved as well with the words “Have you got what it takes?”. Considering the numerous blank walls around it is just clear that it was placed exactly there on purpose. Apparently the wall belongs to the real estate company Simon Mamo and it is a poster of their own.
As an explanation, it was made public that this wall would soon disappear anyway and that the existence of the wall, which was initially conceived as only one year, was now tolerated for more than four years. What a gossip. It made us really angry at the moment and also showed us a look at the handling of the Maltese authorities and companies. Also many locals were not that happy about the situation. Over the years, this large portrait has become a world famous work of art and a special artistic landmark for the locals, of which most are also proud.
“It was the only sign of hope amid a sea of concrete.”
“There’s hardly any other notable street art in the town.”
Two quotes from Sliema residents told to Times of Malta.
Artist MTO’s answer told to Times of Malta: “Savagely covering a political mural speaking about migrants struggles to cross Mediterranean sea with an ugly real estate advertisement which looks like it’s getting out of the character’s butt couldn’t make more sense”.
However, no thought should be wasted on whether or not someone understands the meaning of art or positively acting changes to an environment. That is not what this is all about. It is the old well-known game of money and also shows how Malta unfortunately also suffers from corruption and abuse of power in spite of the frontally beautiful nature, the interesting history and the delicious fish dishes. A stupid advertisement for a real estate company is not only more important than a uniquely revolutionary work of art, no, it is paved despite the ability to put this on tens of hundreds of other places precisely on this worldwide famous idolic work of art. If that’s not a message.
The investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia should also be mentioned here. She was blown up a few metres from her house on 16th of October 2017 in a car bomb attack because she was probably with her research and discoveries too close to corruption cases and some people wanted to keep their dark machinations remain secret. In Valletta at the St. John’s Co-Cathedral in front of the MDLXV Monument, a memorial site was set up to commemorate her mission and cowardly murder. A nice visit to this island, but everything again in the same ochre and the upper classes fear if something would change. Fortunately, however, life cannot be stopped with all its dynamics. Unfortunately, Daphne Caruana Galizia died as a martyr, but her work will not be forgotten! Others are now even more concerned with the topic and want to bring the truth to light and uncover intrigues not only in this story, but also to gain a more liberal and contemporary approach to the island and what it means to keep on developing the Malta Republic.
In any case, since the settlement of the island and till its independence in 1964, Malta can mostly look back on a single continuous history of control and alienation from foreign powers. But the Maltese have always been strong, they kept their inner culture and have not gone down. This energy is of course still there, but it is only going ahead at the snail’s pace and the reins still keep on pushing the program. But a good and also as well a bad aspect of life is that we all have to die some day. Even the most conservative conservatives. Nothing remains eternal and changes can be delayed, but not stopped. There are always new and other people coming after and they might like it better when the streets are a bit more colourful. 😉
Here are the different spots where graffiti and street art can be found. There are fantastic galleries like Msida or the harbour wall in Sliema, but also smaller collections from districts and different parts of the island. The area around the Msida Skate Park with the enourmous amount of artworks is divided in six individual parts.
MALTA STREETART FESTIVAL: http://www.maltastreetartfestival.com
MALTA STREETART FESTIVAL: https://www.facebook.com/maltastreetartfestival
ADD MORE COLORS: https://www.addmorecolors.com
About the Streetart Festivals: https://www.addmorecolors.com/post/incredible-street-art-in-malta-by-international-artists
JUSTIN’S AND MURALS: https://www.facebook.com/justinksandmuralsartgallery
JUSTIN BONNICI: firstname.lastname@example.org
MTO – Email: email@example.com
MTO – Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mto.page
MTO – Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mtograff
I Support Streetart: https://www.isupportstreetart.com/partnership/sliema-street-art-festival
Malta Skateboard Association (MSA): https://maltaskateboardassociation.wordpress.com
Malta Skateboard Association (MSA): https://www.facebook.com/msamalta
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