Meet Nik Keter, the 19-year-old Maltese painter who is reinventing traditional sacred art

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With Malta’s cultural and artistic roots running deep in traditional religious art, it is truly refreshing to see new art emerge exploring a deeper layer.

Meet Nik Keter, a painter and poet from the picturesque town of Mqabba, who has devoted his artistic endeavors to a reimagining of sacred art.

Lovin Malta sat down with Nik to find out more about their journey as a painter, from the very beginning of their quċċija, to launching their first solo exhibition at 19.

“I don’t think I can live without creating… however my passion comes from a desire to communicate the Mother to people, as well as a motivation to work on myself. Art is a tool to convey a message, using the artist as a medium – that’s why I think it’s not just about improving or perfecting the technique, but rather perfecting the artist himself,” they told Lovin Malta.

So who is Nik?

“I am Nik Keter, currently nineteen; tentatively Maltese – I’m non-binary, a self-taught artist and womb yogi. I have had the privilege of spending the last two years out of school developing myself; and I can proudly say that I have changed my life – from a miserable, self-destructive teenager to an empowered young adult – through the inclusion of rituals and yoga in my life, and finally, by engaging with the Divine Mother” they explained.

They tell how they have always been concerned about the lack of representation of female power, especially being brought up in a Christian-dominated country like Malta.

“So much so that at a tender age, I refused to make the sign of the cross; choosing instead to raise the left hand and sign: In the Name of the Mother, and of the Daughter, and of the Holy Spirit.

It also inspired the title of their first solo exhibition, held last August, titled “In the Name of Mother…and Daughter”.

“Thus, my life and my work are dedicated to bringing the spirit of the Divine Mother; free from the patriarchal lens, to the people around me.

How did their career as an artist begin?

“At the age of one year, at my quċċija – my parents tell me that I grabbed several objects, but finally settled on a rosary, some colored pencils and a book, with which I quickly started scribbling on the pages,” they mentioned.

“I guess that very strongly foreshadowed what was to come! I truly believe that some of us were born knowing why we are here,” they said.

Nik drew and painted often throughout his childhood, with horses being his first love, then moving on to copying characters from a favorite anime.

“During high school, the pressure to succeed academically intensified and I didn’t feel I had the time or energy to continue painting, and being pressured by my parents to devote time to painting felt like a burden to me, so I rebelled and refused to paint or draw at all…it was probably one of the worst times of my life,” they recounted.

“I finally took up the brush again after taking art as a subject in sixth grade, which had its own difficulties; like painting according to your own desire and painting because a teacher says you have to be away from each other,” they said.

And what are they inspired by?

“So I’m primarily influenced by my research into the scriptures, psychology, and the natural world around me.”

“As a child brought up on scripture and myth by my own choice – for no amount of harassment or ostracism from my peers could induce me to commit myself to the religion that was given to me stuffed with school and the culture around me – my background comes through in my art.

“I was raised in the myths of Parvati, Ganesh and Shiva, I dipped my toes in the Greek pantheon, I read the Bible at the age of nine for personal interest. I have always sought a mother figure when I felt lonely or scared, something that was very much my reality as a child.

Their art also often uses symbols from the three cultures they feel closest to, namely Hinduism, Christianity and traditional Maltese culture.

“My main point of visual inspiration is medieval or Byzantine iconography: for they have a harsh, yet meditative stillness that inspires a calming of the mind in its viewer – something I try to emulate,” wrote they stated.

Since an aspect of the Mother is found in the Earth itself, Malta as Homeland is a huge source of inspiration for Nik, in things like flora, fauna and cultural traditions.

And where are they now?

“Currently, I am working on further developing my yoga roots and obtaining the certification required to teach yoga,” they explained.

“I am also working to further develop the ritual side of my practice, and will eventually publish a book on the subject. I’m working on a concise exhibition about the loss of traditional Maltese culture in the face of rampant consumerism; through the eyes of Eve and Mary.

The work also aims to send a message of empowerment to those who, like Nik, suffer from anxiety.

“The message is a call to develop one’s own will and live one’s life on one’s own terms.”

“To those who feel helpless and powerless – the power to overcome obstacles in their path – The fierce and protective Mother. Secondary to this is the underlying drive to reclaim our Mother in her most apparent form; the natural earth that surrounds us, our traditions, our people, our culture, our nation.

Follow Nik on Instagram at @matri.mater.omm

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When Sasha (formerly known as Sasha Tas-Sigar) isn’t busy writing about environmental injustice, she’s likely fighting for women’s rights. Follow her @saaxhaa on Instagram and send her all things environment, art and women’s rights on [email protected]
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