Calleja’s literary work revolves around the construction and subversion of imagery. He uses this as a canvas upon which to initiate or trigger an affective, aesthetic response. He digs deep within stories that touch upon our humanity, peeling away at layers which conceal and reveal the problematic relationship we have with who we are, where we stand, and with whom.
Iswed Assolut (Pubblikazzjoni Kopin, 2016), for instance, is an anthology of verses which explores the different narratives of African (im)migration to Malta and the rest of Europe. Every page contains a numbered list of verses and every set of numbers makes up a separate piece. The importance of each line is thus underscored: one is forced to take a moment after reading a line, and before moving on to the next. Discourse in the media and in the political sphere surrounding (im)migration is mostly talk about numbers and figures and statistics, rarely about human beings. In opting for this particular form, Calleja restructured stories about real but largely nameless individuals and gave them a distinctive voice of their own.
With this approach, Calleja transcends one reality and steps into another. Meaning and boundaries are constantly being challenged, (re)negotiated and (re)imagined in numerous ways, and accepting this is crucial to understanding his work. Ir-Raġel (AWL, 2010) was a poetry installation devised as a meditation on the constructs that describe and define Western ideas of masculinity. Calleja saw the physicality and the permanence of the book as symbolic of hegemonic authority and therefore the text, instead of being printed on pages, was handwritten on the walls of a private residence. It was also assigned an ISBN number; however, twenty-four hours later, it was painted over. Thus, doubt was cast on the book’s form as an authorial and authoritative body. It was reframed in a way that highlighted its fluidity, ephemerality and impermanence (as a memory, photographic records, a documented event).
In kull flgħaxija kif mal-għabex tnin u tmut saħħet il-jum (self-published, 2014), Calleja deconstructs and decontextualises stories of cancer patients and re-envisions them as poems which reflect a narrative that is simultaneously overwhelming and intimate. He interviewed the patients and elicited images which provided him with a catalogue of each individual’s inner self, a collection of memories of a life lived beyond a mere diagnosis. Once again, Calleja stressed how the underlying concept extends well beyond the subject, and the interaction between the two can be transformative.
Biography written by Noel Tanti
Project co-ordinator: Clare Azzopardi
With the help of: Kirsty Azzopardi, Leanne Ellul and Albert Gatt
Proofreader: Dwayne Ellul