Enterprising businesses appears to come naturally to some people but, as Malta’s young entrepreneur Matthew Attard Navarro tells me, it only comes as a result of hard work. Since the age of 17 Navarro has been producing fashion journals that are “too creative” for the Maltese media. This critical judgement is something of an oxymoron as his first journalistic project, Platinum Love, defiantly attracts significant attention and subscriptions from around the world.
Since 2009 Navarro has been working hard as an editor, as well as a fashion and freelance photographer. He has two journals that he currently manages, they were born following rejections on the basis that he was too avant-garde for other publications (their words). Initially providing fashion journals for free at his own expense, Navarro found financial support in hosting advertising in his publications. His second journal, Milkshake, survived three editions before two advertisers and a distributor refused to pay for his product. An experience that left him with a 11, 000 euro financial deficit. Since then Navarro has moved forwards and is now dedicating himself to his seminal product, Platinum Love. St. James Cavalier currently hosts an exhibition of Matthew’s work, the two part work, “call your girlfriend“, is on show until the end of March (sorry if the link dies).
Navarro’s ambitions and successes are modestly cloaked by his outgoing support of the contemporary arts scene. He tells me of his surprising discovery in Gozo of Luke Azzopardi, a promising young artist involved in a number of projects with the Naupaca Dance Factory, who recently performed an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. Then he tells me of the travesty committed by the Maltese people against work like this when they pack out the yearly Pantomimes and leave their local dance and theatre scene struggling for patronage. Last year the Pantos were sellouts, the performance of White Sea by rubberbodies hardly filled a quarter of the seats they had available. Navarro Shakes his head sadly when he says this and then tells me, “it’s stupid, not the people, but that there is no education so that people can appreciate this stuff.” He explains, “there is a lot of ignorance, less than before, society is changing but it is a slow change.”
As with a number of artists in Malta who I have spoken to, Navarro perceives the root of all art’s problems to be education. “When I went to school we learned how to draw and paint in a traditional way, but it wasn’t recommended, it wasn’t valued,” he continues, “maybe five people would be in an arts class, the teacher would be bad and we would be told don’t do art there is no money in art.” Such thinking is very unhealthy, he explains and I agree with him, the repercussions of such an education are clearly problematic. Without a ground level appreciation of the arts, many cultural traditions and values can be lost only to be replaced by the successful cultural products of the rest of the world. In an age of exposure, where the internet and globalisation connects together everyone and everything, a Maltese culture needs to be self-aware.
An ignorant Malta is also a poorer Malta, without appreciation artists are prone to relocate to a more cultured society, Italy or the UK for example. Consequently there is a brain drain of creative thinkers and Malta suffers. In an attempt to reverse the trend of picking up old material and recycling it, Navarro’s projects, his photography, his journals, are increasingly aware of the contemporary European scene. He likes the style, the diversity, the influences, he mentions two fashion magazines that inspire him, Fantastic Man and Butt Magazine. Interests are mutual, Europe is interested in Navarro, he has clients across the globe.
He looks outside a lot for influences and resources. This is as much out of necessity as it is out of practicality. The resources in Malta are limited, fashion designers avoid and move away from Malta to places where there is more support, better models, greater opportunities. Models shun Malta too, to go to locations where there is more exposure and better designers. Designers and models are Navarro’s materials and innovates with what he has. In passing he talks about moving into Europe, but this is just an idea, he has a lot of projects to manage and is all ready traveling as a part of his work.
2018 came up in conversation. The Capital of Culture title will be boasted by Malta that year. Despite Navarro’s incredible enthusiasm for his contemporaries he is doubtful that Malta can step up its game for 2018. For him, Malta lacks too many of the necessary ingredients, the education, the respect, the professionalism, the history of appreciation, and even the identity for such an event. “It is not impossible”, he says, “but we would need to see a huge influx of talent and a big push from Europe. At the moment the arts and culture budget is not enough. Only 700 million over four years; that is nothing.” His stance is provocative, he talks from his heart and he knows what is happening around him, he has that awareness of arts and culture that out stretches his contextual parentheses; Malta. Malta is inevitably going to change, but change can be slow and requires an understanding that can only come from a history of experiences. There can be no huge jumps of development without an understanding of the content of that jump. What ideas are developing, shaping, growing? Why do they exist and where do they come from? Otherwise there will be a perpetuating scene of art for art’s sake and Navarro doesn’t fancy that outcome very much.