Photograph, various sizes, taken in 2003.
At a time when the Holy Land of the prophetic religions is once more undergoing a Passion, it seems at first surprising, then inevitable that the self-portrait of an artist as Everyman could look like an ideogram of Lancan’s concept of Jouissance: the mystical, or indeed orgiastic, extacy which makes pain and pleasure convertible. PETER SERRACINO INGLOTT Philosopher and Priest Convergence may still indicate the way to redemption. Freedom is somewhere beyond suffering mascarades, but it is a reality. The way has been indicated during the history of humanity, and the indication is still hidden somewhere, maybe in prophets speeches, maybe in peoples smiles. But there comes a time for rebellion, and it can be here and now. No reason to delay liberation. Prophets messages may not be useless if humanity understands that more than the past matters the present. CLAUDIO FIORENTINI Poet and novelist This is the vulgar triumph of a zealot who anticipates that the theatrical staging of his “crucifixion” will secure massive political attention over time. It is the navel, not the nails, that attracts the most attention. The navel is a most crucial detail, since the “navel” of Christ’s Church , i.e. Byzantium and then Rome, became such a central powermongering locus, that the instruments of sacrifice (the nails) became irrelevant stage-props. What we have here is the mocking impact of religious politics, an insulting bigotry, operating in the name of liberation. MARIO AZZOPARDI Educator, cultural animator and political commentator in the media. My first response to the subversive humour of this radiant martyr is one of surprise and laughter. And I wonder – Will he shock and offend? I notice the sheer vitality of the naval and the warmth of the gaze. Is this an ego-trip – the ego casting itself as a Christ-like matyr, and seriously ‘’getting off’’ on the fantasy? Or is it a new and changing ‘’Christ’’, no longer convinced of the need for pain – tired of endless images of grief and death? ACHIM KORTE Teacher and Bio-dynamic Psychotherapist There is a dichotomy between the apparent pleasure displayed and the torture depicted. What could this mean? What is he enduring that delights him so much? Perhaps it is worth it to suffer for a cause...a higher principle? This is the role of the martyr. SLYVIA MARIE MAJEWSKA Artist "Who’s the zealot? He’s the superficially happy, sardonically smiling ruffian of contemporary society in all its shallow excursions to spiritual realms, castrated by the tightly fastened nails of orthodox religious structures – proudly showing off their rigidity. Christ resurfaces in a staged Second Coming as the pop icon: the behemoth cultural figure subverted in service of Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame, now a scalpel in the toolbox of the artist. Ludic, facetious interpretations abound; yet no statement holds more weight of seriousness and immediacy in our world. The turban shatters all preconceptions about this being a mutually exclusive statement on Christianity, Islam or any other organised religion. Ideological slavery means we remain the biggest victims of ourselves thousands of years following the prophets’ walks on Earth, but the advantage is that the self-torture devices are plastic. Unlike the historical Jesus, we don’t need to suffer the shedding of blood and complete decimation of our bodies to resurrect into a new consciousness. The artist’s enigmatic beaming confirms that the centrifugal nature of humanity stuck in collective pain might all be a dream we can wake up from, given the mindful abandonment of zealotry." Galaxy smartphone. MARIA MANGION writer One may relate this piece to Albrecht Durer’s 1500 self-portrait, in which the artist portrays himself frontally, in a direct manner that reiterates a saintly idiosyncrasy, thus suggesting the mystical significance of his earthly artistic accomplishments. Attard’s own religious assimilation is much less subtle in its over-blatant self-exposure yet criticises, rather than exalts, this action of divine/human reversal. NIKKI PETRONI University lecturer Jesus also becomes unrecognisable in Norbert Francis Attard’s The Zealot 151 (Fig. 3.52). Attard’s large photograph redefines the subject as a self-portrait of the half-naked artist: overweight, hairy, laughing and crucified! While modern and contemporary art has proposed various transgressive versions of the crucifixion, from a female Christ52 to Serrano’s Piss Christ and Sarah Lucas’ Christ You Know it ain’t easy (showing a sculptural crucifixion made entirely out of cigarettes), Attard’s work inverts almost every aspect of the traditional crucifixion: the emaciated, hairless, quasi-female, tortured torso and painful expression of Christ that usually embody the Christian virtues of poverty and humility have now been replaced by a flabby, contented messiah. Art has invested heavily in the depiction of a passive Christ, an image that appears to deny the masculine virtue of domination. The Zealot is undoubtedly male, yet he laughs. Is this an incarnation of God? Is he an imposter? Or is this the only kind of martyr who can ‘sell’ himself to a contemporary public? RAPHAEL VELLA Artist and University lecturer The photograph of the Zealot is invaded by language in the very moment it is looked at. The title and image are carefully construed to create this strong visual metaphor and the apparent paradox makes us hasty to generalize the artist's statement. Attard displays eloquent shamanic qualities in creating this mind boggling image and makes us don our individual thinking hats. He is perhaps questioning our thinking in today's world and poses several questions with this 'manipulated' photograph; clean of any blood stains. Should independent thinkers be repungant to religious zealots? As Christopher Hitchens, a renowned british journalist put it; 'The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks'. The artist wants us to make sense of the world based on personal observations and experience and invites us to do the same rather than acting like lemmings or automatons. PATRICK FENECH Photographer Once upon a time in the southern United States when one had an air of ecstasy about them one’s friends were likely to say something like, “You look as though you’ve died and gone to heaven!”. The relationship between agony and ecstasy, darkness and light are ancient tropes in our human history. They are the realm of the zealot, he does his best work in the magnetic field between pain and pleasure. The artist has constructed a self portrait that seems to suggest that he too knows well this pendulum’s swing of sensation and emotion. After all one must be something of a possessed spirit to make art their profession. In this remixed auto-Ecce Homo the artist is at once tortured and self torturing. Is there any hope of release from this endless cycle? By the conflation of an ecstatic expression, nails in the palms and spent posture the artist suggests there is. ROBERT PETERSON writer Pinned like a stuffed specimen in a natural history museum, the architect turned artist in this self-portrait is possibly representative of the catholic, hairy, overweight, "happy" mediterranean middle aged male. His white 'turban' looks like a sweaty under vest which builders place over their heads under the scorching sun. His weight possibly also reflects the contemporary artist who is well fed, spending long hours in front of his desk and pc, researching and designing his installations and proposals. ROMINA DELIA Internationalization, Malta Arts Council