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Art Discussion Group - Malta


Relics by Joseph Agius

Joseph Agius is not inspired by beauty. He is impressed by life’s vicissitudes, decadence and deterioration, by wanton destruction and death the singularly democratic levelling. He philosophizes on man’s despicable brutality and violence. And although he does not moralize he exposes and condemns man’s heinous acts, deceit, hypocrisy and betrayal.

Joseph’s art stimulates thought, induces reflection, exposes man’s violent streak. Naturally his expression focuses on the macabre, morbid and the melancholic aspect in man to communicate his message. He treats death, mummified corpses, torture, decadence and corruption – physical and moral. He draws on classical and pre-classical art of friezes in low relief in repeated patterns of the human form reduced to abject slavery or corpses in stylized and archaic images rendering man into a cog in a wheel.

He creates an orientation, an awareness to educate and inform. His task is not fine conditioning or cheap propaganda but a political statement to expose and condemn, to research and search for true facts a strong basis for pressure groups in order to achieve equity and justice: abstract notions that hardly exist in an ideal state or in a parliamentary democracy.

His main study is human pathology – human suffering and degradation with the resultant loss of human dignity. As a senior registered nurse engaged in a paediatric ward he has both the possibility and the opportunity to reflect and analyze practical experience, an ongoing process of research that can relate theory to practice.

His expression is not merely particular. It does not belong to a place, a time and a space but entirely universal: themes that affect us all, that have affected us through history, from time immemorial. His expression touches the heart with its world-wide appeal especially when it focuses on minority groups, ethnic cleansing, genocide, rape, destructive war, and abject slavery. Joseph campaigns against imperialism, capitalism, hunger, disease, exploitation and hideous brutality.

In “Caligula’ Joseph ironically decorates the pediment of a Greek temple with a filthy rich patrician aristocracy grown fat literally on the back of telamon or caryatids – abject salves of the ‘latifundia’ metamorphosed into supporting columns. The sarcasm and invective is quite explicitly illustrative.

The ‘Rape of Nanjing’ constructed of plaques in register (as in the Trajan Column) treats of dehumanized corpses or mummified figures exposing the atrocities the Chinese suffered at the hands of the Japanese. 

In the aesthetic sense the work has elements of classical reliefs with a reference to the abject poverty of the Barbarian hordes under despotic rule. The dark stained wooden frame turns the ceramic plaques into a relic or icon. “Forgotten Genocides’ treats the same obnoxious theme where human figures are transformed into ciphers or hieroglyphs.

In ‘Sanktaj Ostoj’ (holy bones) a miniature Greek temple is used as a ‘reliquarium’ underlining the sanctity of life. Bone fragments refer to human remains (the part for the whole) whose dignity was sacrificed, as Christian martyrs on the altar of oppressive torture. This work is inspired by Christian iconography that used relics in the same manner of a talisman, a physical image or remnant as a symbol or icon that evokes the strength of the spirit that survives invoked after death and that emanates grace to believers.

Click here to The largest work by the ceramist, monumental in size and surely not alien to the description of monument is ‘Ethnic Groups’: three ceramic plaques 100 x 110 cm each based on a wooden pallet actually decorate the main lobby of Mater Dei Hospital since August 2009. Perhaps this work could be regarded as Joseph’s strongest expression to date. It could be regarded as a form of protest against the alienable right of minorities and a condemnation of atrocities under the guise of ethnic cleansing.

‘Left Out’ (Dec 2001 – Jan 2002) and ‘The Maze’ (June 2004) are the titles of personal exhibitions that expose Joseph’s commitment or even obsession to human vicissitudes, to man’s suffering both physical and mental, to inhuman treatment. The pathos in his works induces a catharsis in the observer that can only be regarded as an artistic commitment towards an awareness to inform, orientate and educate.

Joseph Agius was born on April 17th 1967. He lives at Santa Venera and currently works as a senior registered nurse in a paediatric ward at Mater Dei Hospital. Joseph started his ceramic studies 13 years ago at the previous School of Art And Craft at Targa Gap Mosta under George Muscat and Tony Briffa. The artist has participated in several collective exhibitions and organized four personal exhibitions including the actual show at Palazzo Castellania in April 2010. With ceramics he often uses rusty sheet metal recycled from 45gallon tanks abandoned in our countryside. In addition to ‘found object’ Joseph uses old newspapers that in his opinion transform into a symbolic protest as the media obscure everyday reality.

E.V. Borg