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Verdala Sculpture Garden by E.V. Borg

If life is a miracle and death a mystery, a tree must be a poem of life. It grows in the bosom of the earth from a minute seed into a sturdy trunk covered by a thick skin or bark from which branches and twigs spread and radiate upwards like fingers groping towards the sky and light, towards life. A tree is not only a poem but the symbol of liberty and freedom. In its leaves, like hair, birds nest. Birds symbolize freedom with their effortless flight on the wing. Such shelter for winged creatures emanates tranquillity and peace.

The ‘Tree of Peace’ in bronze by Hedva Ser at the Verdala Gardens, the President’s Palace is the centre or pivot of this educative footprint or path, a journey into contemporary art history represented by the expressive language of some of our local artists: Angelo Agius, Norbert Attard, Gabriel Caruana, Mario Galea, John Grima, Richard England, Neville Ferry, Paul Haber, George Muscat, Dolores Lungaro Mifsud and Joe Xuereb (nine Maltese and two Gozitan) – and four installations by MCAST students.

dovetailed construction imitating wood as in temple construction without using nails. It is a suitable companion to the ‘Tree of Peace’: since peace and long life are the ultimate that humanity desires. Both these works are gifts by UNESCO and China respectively.

The ‘Shrine’ by Neville Ferry (1945-2011) is inspired by archeology, anthropology and sociology. This creation belongs to a series of altars and niches related to primitive cult, worship and prayer to propitiate the deity. It is the relationship of primitive man with his god and man’s reliance on divine power, on his simple but effective bargaining with a superhuman spirit or force by offering sacrifice in the hope that his prayers will be heard thus obtaining his desires through symbolic offering. It is the first awareness of therapy through propitiation.

Near the ‘Tree of Peace’ lies the ‘Long Life Chair’ by Fu Zhongwang in stainless steel.

Neville is also represented in the Santa Lucija Sculpture Garden an extension of the Garden of Serenity, recently restored and enlarged by the Chinese.

Painted in bright red, a Chinese Imperial symbol with gold, this chair is a special throne with the antlers of an antelope or stag growing out of the back of a

Neville Ferry with Paul Haber (b.1940) is a second generation ceramist who studied in Loughborough, U. K. and put ceramics on a professional footing together with Paul after

being inspired by first generation veteran ceramists Gabriel Caruana and John Bonnici who both taught the subject. Ceramics since the 1960’s has mushroomed locally into an artistic movement as happened with photography with the founding of the Malta Photographic Society in 1978.

‘Damsels of Verdala’ by Gabriel Caruana (b.1929) echoes one of his own works inspired by Picasso and the famous Costantine Brancusi with the title Madam Pogany in homage to that by Brancusi, the Rumanian sculptor. Gabriel is regarded as a founder of the modern abstract movement in Malta and greatly honoured and celebrated in Faenza. With the sun shining on Gabriel’s cobalt blue pieces and threatening rain guests could appreciate ‘The Guardians’ a formidable piece by George Muscat (b.1962), a dynamic, robust sculpture in the dark shade of pine trees.

Paul Haber presents ‘Tranquillity’ in mixed media basing his installation on the sphere in primary bold and bright colours. Perhaps the most hedonistic and pleasure stimulating of the lot and should appeal most to children in its child-like simplicity and sense of joy. Paul is one of the best exponents of ceramic innovation in Malta.

‘The Couple’ by Angelo Agius (1951-) who studied sculpture in Rome and an admirer of Manzu look forward in a trance enjoying the beauty of nature around and yet oblivious of ‘The Guardians’ by George Muscat below them.

‘Evolution’ by John Grima (b.1967) recalls concepts dear to the Russian Constructivist Movement. It is a solid mass of hard stone massive in form and hurtling in space like a meteorite, fusing dynamic linear and curved shapes in a perfect balanced movement. John achieves the closest interpretation of sculpture in the round. ‘Respect’ by Joe Xuereb (b.1954), massive and monumental in globigerina limestone has a close affinity with the vision and concept of Henry Moore’s work.

Perhaps the strangest contraption in metal is ‘The Keeper of Time’ by Mario Galea (b.1959), a vertical construction with the ‘Eye of God’ (according to Josef Kalleya’s philosophic expression: ‘scrutatore’) in what seems a ‘gonfalon’ or ‘palio’ in shining copper and brightly painted metal, fluttering in the wind. ‘Gaia, Nys & Eos’ is a ceramic piece by Dolores Lungaro Mifsud (b.1964), inspired by Greek mythology and resting on giant hardstone boulders.

It is impossible not to mention ‘Spirit of the Wolf’ by Norbert Attard (b.1951). It is an interactive installation in metal, glass and mirrors that is more of a happening than a sculpture in space. A flight of metal steps invite the viewer to climb and push his head through an oculus to see a wolf and his own image reflected repeatedly in the mirrors. A cold, austere contraption that is hardly kind on the environment of the place.

‘Mediterranean Penguins’ by Richard England (b.1937) is a pattern of repeated modules: a stenciled penguin in profile. As the architect explained since art is about fantasy not reality – these penguins got lost and were transformed by the Malta sun into bright coloured birds. Since Verdala is a nature sanctuary (and therefore sacred) these penguins are a clear sign for hunters to keep out and not trespass.

In the students’ section the ‘Stag Sculpture’ in metal wire steals the show by its realism and veracity. A stag with branching antlers is tragically trapped in a wire net. Its fate is sealed. Though somehow unusual as deer in a wood are usually hunted and cornered by dogs it projects the function of a hunting lodge (palazzina di caccia) that Verdala served in the past contrasting with its present function as an enclave, a sanctuary of tranquility, serenity and peace. ‘Arabesque’ is quite a sculptural feat expressing dynamic movement yet too an explicit reference to an international logo that has become almost myth created by Michelin, a firm that manufactures rubber tyres. Ingeniously wire replaces rubber. H. E. the President of Malta Dr. George Abela inaugurated the sculpture garden on Tuesday 4th March 2014 at 11.00am. His intentions were quite explicit as confirmed in his speech. The aim of this educational project is to thank artists for their past generous contribution to charity campaigns and also to show his appreciation of local talent and creativity. E. V. Borg 09. 03. 2014

Designed by Mary Attard

Verdala sculpture garden  

sculpture garden at verdala, MALTA recently inaugurated by H. E. the President of Malta Dr. George Abela works by Maltese & foreign artists...

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