Upon studying the subjects of her first exhibition titled Playa: Plajja, which are the beach-goers of the Mediterranean sea, Maltese artist Tina Mifsud realised that part of this fascination was in fact admiration at the confidence these people imbued, as they so casually exposed themselves, flaws and all, as people who are truly comfortable in their own skin. That fragile, often spiteful relationship with the person in the mirror is one that is little spoken of and quickly shoved under the carpet, while we are simultaneously bombarded with images of what society deems to be ultimate beauty and perfection.
Taking matters of her own struggles with self-confidence into her own hands, or rather, onto her own canvas, Mifsud turns the lens to herself for her next exhibition called Point of You. Here she exposes her body in “awkward and unflattering positions,” and studies the images to a great extent, in a way that forces herself to get as up-close-and-personal with her own insecurities and ultimately, with her self, as one possibly can.
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Could you tell me a little bit about yourself? What are your first memories of art? What drew you to become an artist?
I’m 27 years old and I’ve been doing art full-time for the past two years. I have a degree in Tourism studies and I’ve also worked in that industry. However, having such an intense job, where I barely found time to paint, made me realise how much I wanted to give this career path a shot. My parents say that I’ve always been scribbling my way around, ever since I could hold anything. I used to win awards for arts and crafts during primary school, but it was my Year 3 teacher who told my parents during Parents’ Day to take my ‘skills’ more seriously, that’s when they started taking me to art lessons.
I always remember doodling on my school books and getting in trouble when I was younger but it never stopped me. Art was always something I’d turn to, whether I was upset, happy or angry. So, the fact that I was rarely finding the time to do that really affected me emotionally, and made me realise that I need to be doing something else with my time. Not that I hated my job, but it wasn’t what I truly wanted to be doing. I then moved to Barcelona where I practised art for a year and worked for another.
Barcelona and Malta have their similarities and certainly their differences. What has each place given you in terms of inspiration and how do you believe that has transferred to your work?
Although Barcelona is a metropolis, by all means, it’s still concise and has the sea a few minutes away from the centre. It has a warm Mediterranean vibe and a social life that is constantly buzzing which is why it attracted me so much – the similarity between both places was comforting. My Playa: Plajja exhibition was a stepping stone in my career. All scenes in my paintings were inspired by the Mediterranean beach culture, particularly in Barcelona and Malta. Both places inspire me but as Barcelona is bigger, there's more opportunity and variety in every sense.
It seems clear that you have a particular fascination with the human form. What is it exactly that inspires you?
To me, it was more about body language and the silent ways of passing on messages. Our bodies are one of our most political tools. We use them to express moods, stances and opinions and, at the same time, confidence, insecurities and actions. It’s an extension of the mental self.
In my first exhibition Playa: Plajja, you could tell that I targeted people who portrayed confidence and were nonchalant in their body language. I then came to the realisation that I craved the confidence these people had on the beach. I later decided to turn the lens on myself and create a body of work that I didn’t tend to exhibit.
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Your most recent exhibition, Point of You, consists of a series of “intimate artworks (points of view) which relate to topics of self-image, life on and off social media, and the societal dynamics that surround the perception of us and our bodies in today's world." What is your own relationship with self-image, and what part does social media have to play in that for you?
I feel like these days it’s hard to have a conversation on self-image without bringing up and correlating it to social media. The idea behind this exhibition started off as an exercise for myself to help me overcome body dysmorphia. I was once reading about exposure therapy and how if you over-expose yourself to something, you slowly start to acquire it. I went from avoiding my body and any form of reflection to fully exposing myself. I photographed myself in awkward and unflattering positions and then studied and painted myself in the hopes that I would get used to seeing what I thought was my ‘worst,’ so that any normal photo or reflection would not look as bad as what I documented.
This year of documentation was never really meant to go beyond my studio walls, and I hid it for a while. However, people who would visit my studio would constantly comment on this work and how relatable it was. Eventually, I started posting some on social media and got a tremendous amount of support. I must say my relationship with social media differs depending on my mood because as much as it put me in a terrible situation it also got me out of it.
You describe the pieces in this collection as being of a "confessional nature" – in what way?
A word I enjoyed hearing from the visitors at my exhibition was "raw." That is exactly what I was trying to do with the show. The curation by Andrew Borg Wirth played a very big part in the exhibition, it was very strategically curated to look incomplete and ‘in process,' the same way I relate to my body image.
To me, it’s an ongoing process which I’m constantly trying to improve and come to terms with rather than move on and get over. The works are all very vulnerable but not seductive. I displayed my insecurities in my unflattering positions in the nude to an audience through paintings, a side no one thought I ever had.
You’ve put your body on display to your audience. What is the kind of conversation you are hoping to stimulate by doing so?
I always want my work to be politically engaging, to strike a conversation and make people feel uncomfortable or question. Mainly, I wanted to address how you could turn your insecurities into strengths. as well as serving as an act of power. Of course, there is also a lot of controversy behind the female nude, and as a woman in the industry, I wanted to make sure to address that through my work. People will always try to weaponise the female nude but I wanted to insist on how fully aware I am of my body and all it has to offer, and that is power in itself.
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In fact, Malta is still a pretty conservative country, and religious ties are still prominent. Did you have any resistance to displaying your work here for these reasons?
To my surprise, not many. I was very sceptical about displaying this work in Malta but it was received mostly well, which is of course refreshing. I do wonder, though, if I had to paint myself differently, maybe more seductive, if that would be received in another way.
In what way do you think art has the power to break certain taboo topics or outdated social norms?
It’s a form of expression like writing, performing and many of the arts. Art is very subjective and it’s important to keep in mind how it will resonate with some people but not with everyone, and that’s ok, as long as you voice what you truly believe in. To me, art is a reflection and prediction of the present or what is yet to come and it’s the artist’s job to be updated on that.
Are there other artists that are using their art to make bold statements or break certain social norms that have particularly inspired you?
Jenny Saville is someone who has constantly inspired me. Her work depicts the pathological perceptions of the body in a grotesque yet humbling way. As well as Rebecca Belmore and Marina Abromovic as interdisciplinary artists.
Any thoughts on your next exhibition?
I feel like I will, once again, turn the lens on someone else. Someone with whom I have a very intimate but complicated relationship.
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