It all started, aptly so, with a cage. No stranger to hosting exhibitions in a number of museums across the decades, Joseph Farrugia has been working on his latest series for the last three years. But don’t let that fool you, because this latest artistic ride was one he actually hated.
By the end of summer 2017, Farrugia had started working on a new project. Inspired, as he frequently is, by one single object or concept around which he ends up basing an entire series, Farrugia had been toying with the idea of a cage. With libels and online threats dominating headlines on a daily basis, the connection between the everyday object and the issue of free speech quickly became a no-brainer.
But then, everything changed mere weeks later, when investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated just outside her house in Bidnija.
“I was shocked,” Farrugia confesses, shuddering as he looks back on that day. “I was overcome by sorrow and rage.”
It was then that his drawings of cages – initially mere experiments with motifs – took a more sinister and much more real approach. Beautiful brush strokes turned into brash hits, and his usual colours gave way to blackish charcoal.
Next up was adding a protagonist to this hellish setting… but that soon turned out to be another no-brainer.
“I could’ve chosen a lot of birds, but none resonated as strongly as the goldfinch. It’s come to represent endurance and salvation through sacrifice.”
There was no turning back; Farrugia’s drawings started featuring more and more cages. But within those tiny cramped cages, shining as a tiny beacon in the ever-darkening landscapes, was the goldfinch.
As time went by and the real-life hellscape of the Daphne Caruana Galizia case continued to unfurl, Farrugia’s drawings took on a life of their own, symbolising some of the major moments leading up to that tragic October afternoon. At the same time, the works also serve as a frightful reminder of how far powerful corrupt people all over the world can go to silence those among us who won’t let them get away with their nefarious deeds.
One by one, Farrugia shows me the end products of three years of uncomfortable inspiration: some 30 twisted drawings featuring all-too-familiar sights.
And while no distinguishable faces (or even places) feature anywhere in Farrugia’s series – aptly dubbed The Goldfinch – images like that of a hellish cabal of suited demons squeezing the cage’s fragile metal frame into itself still hit close to home for anyone who remembers the events of 2017 all too well.
Others are as evergreen as they get, like a frantic drawing of the goldfinch’s cage being absolutely ambushed and overwhelmed by massive flies… which Farrugia named Trolls.
But all throughout this three-year-long experience (the latest painting in the series was only finished a couple of weeks ago), Farrugia hasn’t lost track of the initial surge of emotions that triggered all of this. And three whole years later, they’re no less intense either.
“I did not enjoy drawing these. What you see here is anger. This is pure rage.”
With the third anniversary of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination fast approaching and many feeling justice is still a far-off concept, Farrugia will now be exhibiting the full series of works, for the first time ever, in Valletta.
October will kick off with The Goldfinch seeing the light of day, thanks to an exhibtion at the brothel-turned-hotel-turned-art-space Splendid.
Running between the 12th and 25th October, the event will take a slightly different form to that of a typical exhibition… and it has to do, of course, with its sensitive subject.
“We need to remember,” Farrugia insists. “We can’t afford to forget. And this is what this series is all about.”
In fact, to make sure the series’ narration as a whole is maintained throughout, Farrugia will be reproducing some of the same artworks (up to three times) for anyone who’d like to own one of the striking drawings.
The exhibition is also being organised in support of the Daphne Foundation.
As for Farrugia, he’s expecting extremely mixed reactions to his his latest project… but he’s ready for anything that might come his way as a result.
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