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Valletta Contemporary

Artist interview: Sheldon Saliba

Interviewed by Ann Dingli 
October 2023


Photo of Sheldon Saliba.

Sheldon Saliba is a visual artist based in Malta whose current practice explores rural and built environments, focusing on land use and the influences of the Anthropocene on natural and humanmade materials. In 2022, Sheldon was invited to represent Malta in the Night of Ideas – a youth forum organised by the French Institute with the aim of discussing the environment, international solidarity, and human rights. He was also the winner of the second edition of Shifting Contexts, a collaborative project between Spazju Kreattiv and Aġenizija Żgħażagħ, with his project Reconstructed Balustrades. His solo show at Valletta Contemporary (VC) titled Fragmented Relics explores the intersections among “the human-made, natural forces and the ceaseless passage of time”. Influenced by Saliba’ local island context and geographies, he explores their impact on discarded items, elevating the status of found objects and transforming them into relics. Here he talks to Ann Dingli about his motivations for interrogating Anthropocentric themes and the routes available to young artists. 


Ann Dingli (AD): What motivated you to focus on the theme of Anthropocentrism – how does this exhibition grow from past themes you've explored on your work? 


Sheldon Saliba (SS): Anthropocentrism came as a natural progression from the past three years of work in which, both through found material/objects as well as through the exploration of historically and politically charged sites, I was commenting on the state of the Maltese islands and the rapid changes the country was undergoing, be it the materials used during construction to the ever-growing urban sprawl. 


My practice has evolved and expanded from this onto researching global changes, stemming from the main theme of Anthropocentrism and focusing down onto various subcategories. Fragmented Relics' primary focus is the idea of the ‘technofossil’ or ‘technoartefact’, which focuses on the material culture leftover in our times.


Installation view of Fragmented Relics by Sheldon Saliba. (Photo by Michaele Zammit)

AD: You make unique use of found objects in your work, and specifically in this show. The fragments you elevate as subjects hold a distinct palpability of power, heightened through their suspension in space. Which artists or movements have inspired these formal decisions in your work? 


SS: Rather than particular artists or movements, I am mainly inspired by worldly events and current topics of which the objects serve as a starting point. 


AD: You talk about the dialogue between the natural and the synthetic or industrial, their "cyclical rhythms" and "fragile relationships". Do you believe this is an eternal duality that is set to exist in some kind of tension for the rest of time? Or is one destined to win out over the other? I'm thinking of AI and digital dominance etc. 


SS: In one form or another this duality is inevitable. Coastal Technoartefacts comments heavily on this dialogue by presenting five found objects, all collected from the same beach and all resembling pebbles, yet only two of the five objects are naturally occurring, the others are introduced to the landscape or this case, seascape by human interference. All have been heavily eroded by water and visually have been neutralised, however the biproduct of this introduces synthetic elements on a microscopic scale. 


Rather than AI or digital dominance, I tend to look at the subject from an archaeological point of view. In a way, it is the study of past human interventions into the landscape, as well as the study of materials which were made use of, I'm thinking of the parallels between pottery fragments and plastic remnants of our age, both quite persistent yet one is natural the other is an industrial material. Both materials are persistent, therefore the dialogue shifts to how the material erodes back into nature. Whilst pottery does not introduce synthetic elements into environment, plastic does.


Coastal Technoartefacts (2023) by Sheldon Saliba.

AD: Your practice is described as exploring "rural and built" environments. Can you talk about how your explorations are progressing in this regard? Where is your work heading next? 

SS: I am fascinated by the rapidly changing world we are living in and by the environmental changes, be it through natural phenomenon as well as the changes within our built environments. Presently, I have started to explore this from a global point of view, looking into human induced changes and what this will result in. Apart from the exploration of Technoartefacts, another aspect which i am questioning at the moment the future of flora of lands which will be underwater due to climate change.


Age of Flow (2023) by Sheldon Saliba.

AD:  As a young artist, what do you think are the greatest inhibitors or threats to emerging figures in the art world? Do you think time has provided more or less resources to young artists, and what do you think the most important resource is in enabling the fruition and proliferation of art practice? 

SS: Overall, I think that more resources have been provided for young artists to launch their artistic practice when compared to previous generations. However, more can be done when it comes to providing accessible studio spaces, which I believe is the most important resource which most young artists are lacking.

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