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Maree Azzopardi: final rituals

Lycia Danielle Trouton

What kind of work does an artist produce when she spends a great deal of her time immersed in a landscape and culture imbued by the world’s oldest stone structures–megalithic buildings from Malta’s Temple Period, 3600—2500 BC? Maree Azzopardi, like other Maltese descendents living in Sydney brings with her a rich heritage. As well, she draws on the influences of Vermeer, Catholic iconography, Islamic mosaics and the advantages of new media technology. Her latest show exhibits a range of both colour and black and white photographs and digitized paintings on stretched canvases.

Azzopardi's images focus on domestic interiors, but she creates a sense of space suggesting intimate temples. She places the female nude in settings with props symbolic of rituals that order life: baptism, the partaking of wine and bread in communion, and the cleansing and shrouding of the dead body. What is eerily subversive is that while the images appear at first romantic, and even nostalgic, there is a distinct absence of signs of life. The beautiful basin and the turquoise water jug do not appear to actually hold any water. Is the reclining female dead? The limp feet on the cold floor by the fallen jug suggest that there may have been a hanging. The lone figure, standing in a basin, holding onto a shroud suggests a final ritual. What story is Azzopardi telling?

Azzopardi’s previous and most celebrated body of work, her Chrysalis series, comprise a series of photographs of HIV patients, both in the process of dying and post-mortem, when she was artist-in-residence at St Vincent’s Public Hospital, Sydney, 1995. It seems that the artist is preoccupied with this ambiguous space, the delicate balance between life and death. The images in this show are less confronting seeming staged, set in a distant place and the female figure anonymous.

There is as well is an odd juxtaposition between these otherwise warm interiors with photographs of sculpted cherubs with their arms raised in joy. Perhaps Azzopardi wishes to convey a sense of triumph, even ecstasy over the sense of loss implied–as in Catholic portrayals of martyred saints? Meanwhile, the viewer is sated with the rich sensuality of Azzopardi’s materials, palette and preoccupation with pattern, light and touches of the Baroque.

Maree Azzopardi, Celeste, curator Jonathan Turner, Michael Carr Art Dealer, Sydney, Nov 5—24

RealTime issue #52 Dec-Jan 2002 pg. web

© Lycia Danielle Trouton; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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