Xagħra (multi-sited), Gozo (2019)
Artist and Creative Direction: Victor Agius
Logistics Coordinator, PR and Marketing, Editorial Design: Elyse Tonna
Assistants: Mario Agius, Marvic Sultana
Participants: Xagħra Community, Għaqda Kummittiva Għawdex, Xagħra Historical Reenactment Organisation, Xagħra Youth Centre,
Għaqda ta' l-Armar 2 ta' Settembru 1973 Xagħra, Ta' Verna Folk Band,
Xagħra United FC, Gozo College Xagħra Primary, Ċentru Ġesù Nazzarenu
a project selected through the:
National Call - Art in Public Spaces (2015)
Supported by: Arts Council Malta, Heritage Malta, MUŻA, Kunsill Lokali Xagħra, Ministry for Transport, Infrastructure and Capital Projects, Ministry for Gozo, Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Government
by Elyse Tonna
At the junction between 8th September Avenue and Triq l-Imqades, overlooking the main entry point to one of the oldest inhabited villages of Gozo, two boulders are strategically located along one of the winding paths of Xagħra Playing Field. The boulders, 39 tonnes each, 3m in length and 2m in height, collectively form ‘ħaġarna’ – a contemporary public art sculpture by Gozitan artist Victor Agius. ‘ħaġarna’ combines a multitude of artforms; somehow relating, directly or indirectly, to the recent or distant past of Xagħra.
Victor is synonymous with his continuous research and attempts at interpreting his nation’s pre-history and identity through his ephemeral contemporary art practice. ‘ħaġarna’ evidently entraps numerous meanings and processes. Translated literally, ‘ħaġarna’, or ‘our stones’, already hints at the artist’s ambition to not only encapsulate the different historical narratives related to this village, but to also incorporate the direct involvement of the community in various ways. The notion of public arts is after all deeply integrated with the level of community engagement and associations to its surroundings.
As early as concept stage, Victor’s idea related to ‘ħaġarna’ was already inclined to the direct involvement and participation of various groups and communities from Xagħra. Although these do not relate directly to contemporary art, they play an important role in the cultural and folkloristic components of this Gozitan village.
A shortlisted proposal amongst the submissions forming part of the Arts in Public Spaces Programme issued in 2015, the project was eventually selected via a process which also included public voting. From initial stages, the concept related to ‘ħaġarna’ was exposed to the students at the local primary school, parish groups, youth group and local cultural organisations; contributing in one way or another to the development and overall narrative of this public art project.
Victor’s idea of ‘ħaġarna’ is deep-rooted in the cultural identity of this village which relates directly to its prehistoric roots. The locality is home to UNESCO World Heritage site Ġgantija Temples, Santa Verna Temple, Għar ta’ Għejżu and Xagħra Circle, amongst others. The use of stone as the primary and sole element of this public sculpture therefore comes to us as no surprise. Extracted from Simar Quarry in Qala, Gozo, the main difficulty encountered was the search for a suitable rock formation without any geological and geomorphological faults. Victor involved his father Mario Agius, also a sculptor, in the sculpting of the overall form of the boulders. In ‘ħaġarna’, the latter are positioned to assimilate the position of the nearby southern temple at Ġgantija, which is astronomically aligned with the rising sun during solstices and equinoxes.
The tangible sculpture located within the Xagħra Playing Field is a reflection of the artist’s desire to retrieve different narratives related to the community of this village, figuratively entrapped within the stone. This also incorporates the use of red oxide clay, roots and terrarossa; materials which feature regularly in Victor’s work. The panel placed between the dissected boulders, which Victor produced with the help of students from Xagħra Primary, features red oxide clay significantly. In general, red oxide is a pigment which has been used since prehistoric times especially at Ġgantija and also in figurines found at Xaghra Circle.
Agius believes that performance is vital and an integral part of the tangible monument. As early as 2015 he discussed the idea of including members from Għaqda Kummittiva Għawdex, Xagħra Historical Reenactment Organisation and Xagħra Youth Group to participate in a contemporary procession around the village. Victor believes that performative elements are integral to his work since they conjure images that remain casted in the town’s consciousness. After numerous meetings and rehearsals, on the 11th of May 2019, the communities gathered and through the act of performance, built upon aspects related to historical narratives and collective memory. He also does this by integrating poetical elements engraved on the inside surfaces of the dissected boulders themselves. The poems: ‘Ġgantija II’ by Maltese writer Dr Immanuel Mifsud and ‘L-Għanja tal-Inkurunazzjoni’ by the late Xagħra artist and poet Mgr Michelangelo Apap make reference to the artist’s previous work and historical references related to Xagħra. In fact, the same trio including composer Dr Mariella Cassar-Cordina and author Dr Immanual Mifsud together with Victor himself had already perfotmed as Ars Vitae Ensemble in 'Ġgantija 2013' project.
What at sight seems to be two dissected boulders or megaliths, is essentially a symbol of embodiment combining traits and characteristics of the community of this village. The launch of the public sculpture was a contemporary celebration of several intrinsic aspects related to Xagħra; a reflection of its identity and community efforts, combined and moulded by an artist which calls it home.