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Neolithic Treasures exhibition to be shown in Washington

Sleeping Lady.

Sleeping Lady.

Spiral carvings from Tarxien temples.Spiral carvings from Tarxien temples.

A collection of copper etchings by Marie-Therese Camilleri is to be exhibited at the Malta Embassy in Washington as part of the 2014 European Union Embassies open house. The exhibition was recently on display at the Banca Giruatale in Victoria.

The open house offers an opportunity for visitors to experience the respective country’s cultural heritage and national traditions. The Maltese embassy staff will be available during the event to offer information about Maltese history and culture.

Camilleri’s etchings, which are being exhibited under the title Neolithic Treasures, represent artifacts excavated in the early 1900s at various Neolithic sites across Malta and Gozo. In deference to the natural materials used by this mysterious early civilisation, Camilleri’s prints feature oil-based inks in earthy tones of raw sepia and red and yellow ochres.

Camilleri’s style of simple, unassuming pieces shows strong personal ties to this island

In many of the etchings, she combines aquatint and a proprietary open bite method to re-create the delicately eroded texture of finely carved stone, evocative of the originals themselves.

The exhibition demonstrates a mastery of various etching and aquatint finishing techniques, including embossing, à la poupée application, stencilling and mezzotint highlighting.

Several recognisable symbols of the Neolithic period take pride of place. The two friezes of temple and tomb decorations are particularly striking. One depicts a procession of animals (the goat, the pig and the ram – so critical to this agricultural community) and the second is adorned with intricate spiral carvings, symbols of life, death, fertility and eternity.

Twin seated figure at the Xagħra Stone Circle.Twin seated figure at the Xagħra Stone Circle.

Another instantly recognisable emblem of the era is given centre stage in a set of three prints. The corpulent Venus of Malta figure barely needs any introduction. However, Camilleri manages to provide a different facet to one of our island’s most important historical treasures through the juxtaposition of images showing Venus in all her glory, front and back.

Camilleri has also chosen to exhibit an artist proof of a digital etching, produced by transferring a photographic plate onto the raw copper, and treating it in ferric chloride until the texture is etched into the plate and ready for inking.

One of the most intriguing prints in the collection depicts the shamans discovered at the Xagħra Stone Circle burial site in Gozo. Beloved family members or esteemed dignitaries are adorned with intricate headdresses, elaborate scarves and decorative skirts.

The other highlight is the series of prints that capture the stillness and permanence of the iconic Sleeping Lady, mother goddess, or death.

Some of the renditions are voluptuous, intriguing, hand-finished with water-colour, while others are timeless, faceless and monochrome.

By displaying the original copper plate and a step-by-step slide show, the artist freely shares her printmaking expertise as she walks us through the rigorous process of copper etching.

Camilleri’s style of simple, unassuming pieces shows strong personal ties to this island. As an expat planning her return, it is also easy to understand how distance and memory are underlying themes of her work. Here, her focus is on permanence in spite of slow erosion, the ability of archaeological artifacts to reflect symbols across time, conveying the depth of human beliefs and emotions.

Camilleri pays homage to our precious heritage, using copper to express stone.

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