Malta’s first queer-focused artspace opens with an emphasis on the transmasculine experience

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Despite ranking as one of the best countries for LGBTQ+ rights, Malta “is still highly patriarchal,” say the co-founders of Rosa Kwir gallery, whose debut group show explores queer masculinity through the work of 12 international artists

For the sixth year in a row, Malta has ranked as the best country in the world for LGBTQ+ rights. It significantly outstrips its neighbours in terms of legislative progress on queer issues, with a full ban on conversion therapy and protections for Intersex people against non-consensual surgeries. Malta is also among just five countries which grants full equal constitutional rights to LGBTQ+ citizens

Legal rights are clearly one of the most important tools for ensuring a fairer society, but softer measures can also be key in changing attitudes. Here, culture and education play a role. This is where new queer-focussed artspace Rosa Kwir, hopes to fit in.  The space opened earlier this month in the central town of Balzan. It was co-founded in 2021 by multidisciplinary artists Romeo Roxman Gatt and Charlie Cauchi, and began as a digital archive compiling LGBTQ+ histories and narratives. Now branching out into a physical space, the venue is looking to expand the narrative around queer identity in Malta and beyond. 

© Niels Plotard.
© Niels Plotard.

What sets Rosa Kwir apart from similar LGBTQ+ cultural ventures is its emphasis on the experiences of trans men, transmasculine people and gender-non-conforming individuals. This is, in part, inspired by elements of co-founder Roxman Gatt’s practice, which he describes as including “documentation and archiving of trans and queer experiences” as well as the “critical observation of macho behaviour, specifically in relation to Maltese men”.

This attention to queer masculinity is at the heart of Rosa Kwir’s ethos, so much so that it’s embedded in the name. While “Kwir” is derived from the Maltese spelling of “queer”, the first half of the gallery’s moniker is a reference to Rosa Mifsud: an intersex person who in 1744 petitioned the Grand Court of Malta to change his legally recognised sex. Mifsud is an important reference point to Roxman Gatt and Cauchi, with Maltese LGBTQ+ history seeming to overlook gender diverse individuals like him. “When there are references to trans and queer experiences Malta, the focus tends to be on trans women and cis gay men in the 20th century,” Cauchi explains. “There are rarely any references to trans men, gender non-conforming people, or non-binary people in books and hardly any discourse or visual representations.”

From the series T-fags © El Hardwick and Orion Isaacs.
From the series T-fags © El Hardwick and Orion Isaacs.

Rosa Kwir’s first physical exhibition – Tender and Masculine – is dedicated to depicting the ways that “masculinity can be beautiful when detached from patriarchy”. Curated from an online open-call, the work spans a range of media. By way of photography, El Hardwick and Orion Isaacs present T-fags [above]: portraits of gay trans men and transmasculine relationships. Presented as part of an audio-visual installation, these images of passionate embraces and tender kisses create a visual account of trans homoeroticism.

Elsewhere, Heather Glazzard’s bold black and white images [below] document the artist’s journey with testosterone and top surgery. Other artists include Amy Pennington, Carlos Maria Romero, Dagmar Bosma, Elio Mercer, Harry Hachmeister, Jasmine Johnson, June Lam, Luca Bosani, Lucinda Purkis, and Remi Graves.

Installation of work by Heather Glazzard. © Niels Plotard.

The show also includes perspectives from a range of identities. “All our artists identify in very different ways but the selection of artworks shows other forms of masculinities from a queer and alternative perspective,” says Cauchi. “While the discussion can be challenging, we also feel that there is some really beautiful commentary running throughout the show. Malta is still highly patriarchal and speaking from a local perspective, we really felt that this discussion is necessary. We wanted people – however they identify – to feel like they can contribute to this conversation.”

Cauchi sees Rosa Kwir as complementing the cultural efforts which may lead to greater social acceptance for gender diverse people. “I genuinely believe that as much as our community needs to be protected by the law, the law on its own won’t necessarily protect us or make our day-to-day lives easier or equal to those who fit comfortably within the confines of gender norms,” Cauchi adds. “We need to educate people, young and old, from schools to workplaces, about inclusivity and acceptance.”

Tender and Masculine runs until 09 January 2023 at Rosa Kwir, 38 Main Street in Balzan, Malta. 

Megan Wallace

Writer

Megan Wallace is a culture writer from Scotland. They worked for portrait photographer Rankin, in his creative agency and biannual magazine HUNGER, from 2019 to 2021. As a freelancer, they have written on arts and photography for British Vogue, Dazed, AnOther, i-D, Huck and The Face. Megan is also an Associate Lecturer at London College of Communication.