Bright shades of red and yellow are usually inseparable from one’s mental image of a goldfinch; the small bird, native to Europe and North Africa, which has long been a muse for artists’ and a carrier of poignant symbolism.
In his exhibition The Goldfinch, launching in parallel with the three-year mark of the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, Maltese artist Joseph Farrugia deemed it apt to depict the bird in black and white, or in his words, “tragically void of colour”.
In Christian paintings, a goldfinch symbolises sacrifice and perseverance, as well as foreknowledge; depictions which Farrugia thought appropriate to attribute to Caruana Galizia throughout his work, evolving, sequential series which he felt moved to begin creating more or less following the 2017 snap election.
It was at about that time that Farrugia began to notice the pressure that press freedom was under, and he “felt [he] had to express [himself]”, and began painting in the colours he was accustomed to. A few months later, the journalist’s assassination sent ripples throughout the island and the world, and eliminated any remnant of colour from the artist’s palette, in a natural transition to dark charcoal.
Cages are another regular symbol throughout the series, within which the goldfinch is trapped. In The Goldfinch, symbolising Caruana Galizia’s home, “it represents both a refuge and a prison,” Farrugia told The Shift.
Throughout the 30 pieces, you see excessive pressure being applied to the cage as the goldfinch struggles inside.
The cage is eerily handled by figures in suits, sat on, pushed and left to be attacked by insects. But the goldfinch does not succumb to pressure. It does not stop singing and it is not static. It is freer than the paper birds surrounding the outside of the cage; which Farrugia included to represent individuals whose silence has been bought.
Each work is rich in meaning and representation, covering an array of issues linked with corruption and threatening press freedom which has been at the forefront of Malta’s political climate over the past three years, following, and just prior to the assassination.
Together, the works form a powerful commentary against indifference, institutional collapse and moral corrosion.
“It is good to emphasise what is wrong in society,” added Farrugia.
Although the goldfinch seizes to feature in the works as the sequence develops, representing the assassination, the cage is not forgotten. In fact, it is through it’s damaged, broken bars that a hopeful force is emitted, and colour slowly begins to make a subtle entrance again.
The Goldfinch will be held at Splendid in Valletta between 12 and 25 October and the proceeds will go towards the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation.