€200,000 for a sculpture in a remote and uninhabited area of Gozo
The government intends to spend over €200,000 for a Gozitan artist to produce a new, as yet unidentified sculpture and place it in one of the most remote areas of Gozo, away from the foreshore and next to historical and still productive saltworks.
The owners of the saltworks, who live off the region, opposed the prospect. They claim the area is their private property and not public land and the art installation will bring more visitors to the area which will disrupt the salt flats and their livelihoods.
The Shift is informed that through a planning application submitted last August by the permanent secretary of the Gozo Ministry, John Borg, planning permission has been sought to install “a public sculpture along the coast” on Triq Is-Sagħtrija on the outskirts of Żebbuġ.
The area, better known as Xwejni, is one of the few remaining untouched areas on the island, usually frequented only by salt marsh owners and a few divers.
When asked to explain why the ministry chose a remote area in the middle of nowhere to install such an expensive sculpture, Borg did not answer. He also did not respond to questions about what the sculpture will depict, who chose the remote area for its installation, and who in the ministry decided to spend those funds on the sculpture.
The Shift can report that the commission for the sculpture was awarded to renowned Gozitan artist Austin Camilleri in 2021 via a negotiated procedure – a form of direct commission – for the sum of €209,000. It’s still unclear if the fee is all-inclusive, covering the mounting of the statue, or if it’s just Camilleri’s work.
When contacted, the artist confirmed he had been selected by the Gozo ministry to produce an art installation, but he did not divulge any details about what he was about or why the remote location was chosen.
Insisting that it would not be a monument, Camilleri told The Shift that the installation would not commemorate any event or person.
“It’s an award-winning public sculpture after a public call in 2021, and like most of my sculptures, it’s site-specific,” Camilleri told The Shift. “The site is important for the works, and it should be installed in the second half of 2023.”
Asked about claims that the area in question is privately owned, Camilleri told The Shift that “the Lands Authority has confirmed that the site is government owned and not leased.”
Questions sent to the Lands Authority went unanswered.
It is not the first time that substantial public funds have been used by Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri to award jobs to his constituents.
As well as recently awarding €166,000 to Gozitan artist Vincent Caruana for a large bronze sculpture at Mġarr Marina, he has also paid €350,000 in direct commissions to various companies for the installation of a large statue of Saint Francis of Assisi outside his ministerial offices in Victoria.
The monument – dedicated to a saint associated with poverty – was unveiled in the presence of Prime Minister Robert Abela at a major party for Camilleri voters in the summer of 2021 and was funded by various direct commissions.