The Republic of Malta Playing Arts (2015) is a permanent yet moveable collective art exhibition housed in a card set to which more than 60 contemporary artists contributed. The total land area in this Mediterranean archipelago is only 316km2 but boasts three operating casinos and officially lists more than 260 online casinos (Lotteries and Gaming Authority of Malta, 30 June 2015), the proverbial tip of the iceberg, making the gaming industry second only to tourism as a major employer. In stark contrast, Malta has no contemporary arts museum; therefore as many artworks as possible were brought together and homed in this deck.
Contributors’ ages range from 19 to 84 – a span of 65 years. The 58 artworks were created in the first half of 2015, unless otherwise indicated, with more than two-thirds being specially made for this project. This complex collaborative effort straddles a significant point in time since all involved were born in the last millennium while, equally without exception, everyone’s contribution is from the third millennium.
The artworks are from 0.5cm to 7m in height and the units of weight measure from next to nothing, such as a stamp (0.1g), to over a tonne and a half. The deck includes the largest possible variety of artistic media and practices, from age-old, traditional skills to up-to-date digital imagery.
Aristotle observed that the “aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance”. Thousands of years later, these card images also convey underlying messages, a running social commentary which we deem important within the contemporary Maltese context. Weighing-in at 150g, the Malta Playing Arts set is no featherweight pack: each image stands strongly on its own and the viewer is encouraged to look at preceding and following cards, as well as across corresponding cards of the same value and the overall topics of each suit.
Following is a comprehensive walkthrough of the Malta Playing Arts deck: