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Malta Land of Sea


Malta Land of Sea


Published by 6, Strait Street, Valletta, Malta

Concept and Scientific Content Sandro Debono Copy Editing Louis J. Scerri Catalogue Design & Layout Joseph Mizzi Catalogue Main Photography and Image Editing Joe P. Borg Authors Joan Abela, Joseph Abela, Joanne Attard Mallia, John Azzopardi, Francesca Balzan, John J. Borg, Emanuel Buttigieg, Maroma Camilleri, David Cardona, Robert Cassar, Charles Dalli, Charles Debono, Sandro Debono, Romina Delia, Paul Dujardin, Guillaume Dreyfuss, Philip Farrugia Randon, Nicholas de Piro, Lindsay Galea, Liam Gauci, Isabelle Vella Gregory, Adrian Grima, Dr. Reuben Grima, Daniel Gullo, Ann Laenen, Simon Mercieca, Katya Micallef, Catherine Loisel, Giulia Privitelli, Maren Richter, Daphne Sant Caruana, Joseph Schirò, Tim Schroder, Bernadine Scicluna, Katya Stroud, Sharon Sultana, Edgar Vella, Karsten Xuereb, Maria Elena Zammit Copyright © Midsea Books, authors and rights holders as indicated, 2017

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any other information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders. If, however, you feel that you have inadvertently been overlooked, please contact the publishers.

Front cover Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi) – 1571–1610 Portrait of a Knight of Malta (Fra Antonio Martelli) Oils on canvas, 1608–09 Gallerie degli Uffizi – Galleria Palatina e Appartamenti Reali, Firenze

PHOTO CREDITS P. 29 ©Malta Tourism Authority (MTA); P. 36 ©Albertina, Vienna; P. 46, 156 Schroder Collection; P. 70 ©Kunstmuseum Basel; P. 90 ©Notorial Archives (Valletta); P. 104 ©Musée du Louvre ; P 106, 174, 178 The Malta Study Center, Hill Museum and Manuscript P. Library, Minnesota U.S.A.; P. 132 ©Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum; P. 139 ©Renzo Piano Studio Workshop; P. 152 ©Casa Rocca Piccola; P. 184 ©Gallerie degli Uffizi – Galleria Palatina e Appartamenti Reali, Firenze; All other images ©Joe P. Borg/Midsea Books – the lender; Images for works by Pierre Portelli ©the artist except for Image for Port 02 ©Matthew Muscat Drago. Images of works by Austin Camilleri ©the artist. Printed and bound in Malta by Gutenberg Press ISBN: 978-99932-7-600-5

MALTA. Land of Sea BOZAR, Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels 17 FEBRUARY – 28 MAY 2017

On the occasion of the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the European Union in collaboration with Heritage Malta and Arts Council Malta



Tom Van Malderen, Achitecture Project Malta, assisted by Martina Cutajar SCENOGRAPHY

Evelyne Hinque HEAD OF PRODUCTION Nicolas Bernus TECHNICAL COORDINATION Leen Daems PRESS OFFICER Eléonore Duchêne AUDIENCE DEVELOPER BOZAR EXPO TEAM Axelle Ancion, Helena Bussers, Francis Carpentier, Marie Claes, Christophe De Jaeger, Rocío del Casar Ximénez, Gunther De Wit, Ann Flas, Ann Geeraerts, Evelyne Hinque, Anne Judong, Vera Kotaji, Kathleen Louw, Alberta Sessa, Maïté Smeyers, Iwan Strauven, Christel Tsilibaris








Albert Wastiaux

Jérémie Leroy DIRECTOR OF FINANCES Sophie Lauwers Ulrich Hauschild


Ignace De Breuck





MUŻA – Mużew Nazzjonali talArti, Valletta (Heritage Malta) National Museum of Archaeology, Valletta (Heritage Malta) The Palace Armoury, Valletta (Heritage Malta) National War Museum – Fort St Elmo (Heritage Malta) National Library of Malta, Valletta Notarial Archives, Valletta The Victor Pasmore Foundation and The Victor Pasmore Galley (Valletta) Casa Rocca Piccola, Valletta

HERITAGE MALTA Dr Joseph Buttigieg







Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum, Mdina St Paul’s Collegiate Parish Church, Rabat St Paul’s Catacombs Interpretation Centre, Rabat (Heritage Malta) National Museum of Natural History, Mdina (Heritage Malta) The Cathedral Museum, Mdina

Curatorial staff at MUŻA – Mużew Nazzjonali tal-Arti, National Museum of Archaeology, National Museum of Natural History, Malta Maritime Museum, National War Museum, Palace Armoury, Roman Domus, Haġar Qim & Mnajdra Temples, Gozo Museum of Archaeology, Ġgantija Temples, Gozo Old Prison

Malta Maritime Museum, Vittoriosa (Heritage Malta) Parish Church of the Assumption, Gudja

Conservation Division Department of Exhibitions, Design, and Upkeep Department of Projects

The Old Prison, Citadel – Gozo (Heritage Malta) Ġgantija Interpretation Centre, Xagħra, Gozo (Heritage Malta)


MOAS – Migrant Offshore Aid Station The Malta Study Centre, Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, Minnesota, U.S.A. Fondazione Renzo Piano, Genoa Gallerie degli Uffizi – Galleria Palatina e Appartamenti Reali, Firenze Musée du Louvre – Département des Arts graphiques, Paris The Schroder Collection Mr Joseph Abela Interactive Sound Installations by Pierre Portelli Sculpture and Text Installations by Austin Camilleri





SPECIAL THANKS TO Toni Attard, Vanessa Attard, Caterina Badan, Pierre Bonello, Bodo Brinkmann, Ann Flas, Fr Joe Galea Curmi, Mgr Joe Galea Curmi, Dr Daniel Gullo, Dr Simone Inguanez, Catherine Loisel, Michael Lowell, Deborah Meilak, Paul Mifsud, Charles Mizzi, Jessica Muscat, John Pasmore, Clement de Piro, Tim Schroder, Fr Louis Suban, His Grace the Archbishop Mgr Charles Scicluna, Chris Spiteri, Lucianne Tabone, Dr David Tonna, Frederick Vandeviele, Fr Edgar Vella ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Jerosolomitan Nuns of the Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, L-Akkademja talMalti Francesca Balzan, Norbert Bugeja, Fr Martin Cordina, Randolf Debattista, Matthew Muscat Drago, Joseph Ellis, Claudia Garradas, Christopher Gauci, Claudia Gauci, Maria Grech Ganado, Adrian Grima, Robert Longo, Daniel Massa, Emmanuel Magro Conti, Dr Georgina Portelli, Philip Sultana, Denis Vella, Mario Vella, Prof Martin R. Zammit, Stephan Zammit


INTRODUCTIONS The Prime Minister of Malta, the Hon. Joseph Muscat The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for EU Affairs, the Hon. Louis Grech The Parliamentary Secretary for the EU Presidency 2017 and EU Funds, the Hon. Ian Borg The Minister for Justice, Culture and Local Government, the Hon. Owen Bonnici The President of the Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels and the Members of the Board of Directors, Viscount Etienne Davignon The CEO & Artistic Director, Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels, Paul Dujardin The Head of Exhibitions, Centre for Fine Arts, Brussel, Sophie Lauwers The Artistic Director to the Maltese Presidency, Airan Berg The Executive Chair, Arts Council Malta, Albert Marshall The Chairman, Heritage Malta, Joseph M. Buttigieg MALTA. LAND OF SEA – AN EXHIBITION TO RETHINK TERRITORY AND HERITAGE VALUES Sandro Debono, Exhibition Curator

9 10 11 12 13 13 13 14 15 16


THE NARRATIVE OF MALTA. LAND OF SEA Beyond Island of Stone: The Maltese Islands In The Neolithic Isabelle Vella Gregory A Space of Land and Sea: The Early Modern Harbour of Malta Emmanuel Buttigieg The Maltese Galley: A Taste of a Cosmpolitan Mediterranean Liam Gauci

23 35 45



Re-imagining Maltese space Adrian Grima Frontier Art History: Malta: A case of ‘betwixt and between’ Sandro Debono

53 63

THE STORIES OF MALTA. LAND OF SEA Catalogue entries with contemporary art installations in dialogue 74 MALTA. THE CONTEMPORARY LAND OF SEA A fresh Maltese breeze Ann Laenen and Paul Dujardin 189 On Austin Camilleri and Pierre Portelli Maren Richter 193 Port 01 I wish to communicate with you. Port 03 All persons should report on board as the vessel is about to proceed to sea. Port 04 Affirmative Romina Delia 199 Melħ (Salt), 2017. Mediterranean sea salt Issa Dalam (Now it’s Dark), Il-Ħdax (11 o’ clock), 2017. Neon and Full HD video, duration: 7:59:59 Katya Micallef 205 BIBLIOGRAPHY 211 (Bibliography for catalogue entries has been drawn up as a general reference providing context to the object)


‘We are, naturally, vitally interested in the sea which surrounds us, and through which we live and breathe.’ DR ARVID PARDO Malta’s Ambassador to the United Nations 1 November 1967

On the 50th anniversary of Malta’s original proposal for the United Nation’s Convention of the Law of the Sea presented by Arvid Pardo, then Malta’s Ambassador to the United Nations


Malta’s Cultural Heritage has been profoundly influenced by various others. A number of powerful nations have successively laid claim on our island for centuries at a time. A measure of their respective cultures have become part of our heritage which today is European in scope and Maltese in identity. As Malta’s national institution for Cultural Heritage, we feel proud to have contributed to this project. A number of distinctive items have been carefully selected from our national collection, rethought, and then reproposed in this attempt to showcase Malta as a Land of Sea. The narrative assumes a novel approach but the selected items, in themselves, are central to a good understanding of our island’s history through the ages. Indeed they have to be viewed and appreciated against the backdrop of an even wider context that forms the structural backbone of our nation’s identity. In their own particular way, these unique objects, when correctly interpreted and put into context, establish a number of defining moments which mark our nation’s progressive development. They help us in understanding who we really are, where our origins lie, and what are the distinctive characteristics of our identity. In proposing Malta as a Land of Sea, we have endeavoured to release a measure of the thousands of years old spirit of an island that has witnessed and experienced all the major ebbs and flows of the troubled history of the Mediterranean Sea. The spirit of things is significantly richer and more eloquent than their physical and apparent aspect even when they are imperfect or incomplete. Cultural Heritage in its own right has rightly been regarded as a desired common good – a guiding light which breathes new life and leads successive generations towards a new and even richer living spiritual environment. The past slowly filters down to the present. And we grow on the roots of our memory. Artes Serviunt Vitae – Sapientia Imperat Seneca, Epis. Ad Lucillium, 85, 32

JOSEPH M. BUTTIGIEG Chairman, Heritage Malta


Malta. Land of Sea An exhibition to rethink territory and heritage values

Malta is Mediterranean territory of land and sea. Its history is inspired by the ways and means how the two connect and merge, overlap, and retreat. Dominant civilizations have engaged with this unique cultural landscape over time for reasons of war or trade. All have contributed threads to its cultural weave; many lost, some forgotten, and others highlighted as founding elements of the Maltese nation-state. Indeed, rather than being a frontier, Malta stands as betwixt and between, within a region of land and sea which connects beyond frontiers and borders. Land and Sea have been understood as separate albeit connected spaces of unities, diversities, or both. The elements which connect the two are broad and varied, and can also be read and construed as one. Indeed, Malta’s cultural landscape can be read and understood as a space of land and sea with common origins, history, and heritage. Indeed, this may come across as a conceptual contradiction given that the two are physically separate and clearly demarcated. The Mediterranean has been understood as a territory of seas where people live and where boundaries distort meanings (Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, 1949). It has also been studied as a space shaped by relations and interconnections between distant micro-ecologies (Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell, The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History, 2000) and a traversable void connecting diversity (David Abulafia, The Great Sea: A human history of the Mediterranean, 2011). This exhibition presents a selection of works purposely loaned from over twenty museums, heritage institutions, and other organizations. Rather than a chronology of objects presenting the history of Malta, the exhibition narrative presents a reengineered chronology by dislocating and reconnecting heritage objects with purposely commissioned interactive sound and text installations. New meanings are by consequence created as objects stand for new stories when grouped together. Relationships between objects in each group are carefully articulated and connect to the present in varied ways. MALTA. LAND OF SEA


The past, which these nine clusters engage with, is understood as reference points from which present and future can develop. The introduction sets the tone of the exhibition as Melchiorre Cafà’s hanging sanctuary lamp is displayed in contrast with the multi-spouted Islamic lamp from the National Collection. Cafà is the Maltese sculptor who defines the established iconography of St Paul, shipwrecked on Malta in AD 60, and his sanctuary lamp stands for Malta’s Latin and Roman Baroque heritage. In contrast, the multi-spouted lamp is made of earth, albeit also functional as the hanging sanctuary lamp. It stands for the Semitic, generally associated with the Malta’s Arab connections of which the Maltese language – il-Malti – is but a residue or, perhaps, the evidence of a lost past. The first three chapters present a sequential approach towards land and how this relates to sea. The first, entitled ‘In, Within, and Underneath’, presents the sea as a container of memories. Objects and artefacts are lost and forgotten in its depths, together with the stories to which they belong, irrespective of whether these are objects of commerce or warfare. Man-made and natural fragments brought forth from the depths are presented here. The second chapter deals with navigation presenting historic and contemporary instruments. The third chapter presents Malta’s Grand Harbour, celebrated amongst the finest Mediterranean ports and unique in its strategic location. Indeed, Malta’s strategic importance at the centre of this land of sea is greatly indebted to its harbour which has been shaped by the sea into a series of inlets, nooks, and crannies where sea and land connect and become one. The next three chapters present the land as a product of the sea. ‘Stones of Sea’ presents Malta as the product of layer upon layer of sediment, deposited over time by the sea, and slowly ageing into rocks, territory, and land. This sea-shaped land holds the signs and marks of the island’s culture and history. ‘Sacred Shapes, Lines of Form’ deals with the sacred and the spiritual particularly manifest in Maltese art and which connects across time in various shapes and forms. This narrative becomes more explicit in ‘The Built Land of Stones’ which presents Malta’s architectural heritage as a product of the island’s sedimentary stone. Indeed, the island’s skyline is marked by historic and contemporary buildings. This cultural landscape, built from creamy, multi-hued stones, complements Malta’s blue Mediterranean skies. The last three chapters bridge land and sea thanks to history. The ‘Land of Sacred Seas’ presents objects of ritual in non-indigenous materials, often precious and sometimes unique, as fragments of the Mediterranean cultures with which Malta has shared its history and stories. This narrative presents faith across systems of belief known in Malta, with particular reference to Christianity and Catholicism. The following section presents the sea as an inspiration and resource for precious objects, made from silver and gold brought to Malta in raw form, or shaped into precious and sacred things inspired by the needs and desires of its culture and histories over time, which is presented as the precious gift read in a native tongue. The last section presents Malta as the ‘Island–Fortress of the Sea’. Malta’s strategic location, standing on the frontier of a political and cultural rift, has brought invading cultures to its shores. Indeed, down through history, the sea has yielded threats and fears that have required bastions, weapons, and armour for 18 MALTA. LAND OF SEA

protection. In this section, the Semitic sound of the Maltese language stands in positive contrast to Malta’s Latin culture. The contents of each cluster, and each cluster of works, are connected and cross-referenced to create a table of elements, some of which remain, as yet, unknown and elusive. This is addressed in part thanks to purposely commissioned works by two Maltese artists, Austin Camilleri and Pierre Portelli, whose works present dialogues and missing fragments from this table of elements. Portelli’s interactive sound installations invite the visitor to participate in evoking contemporary sounds and visuals of harbour life and activity next to an eighteenth-century bird’s-eye-view of the Grand Harbour, the sound and voices of sacred music next to a Phoenician artefact made in marble as a votive offering, and the oldest piece of literature in Maltese, Semitic, and sounding similar to Arabic albeit written in the Latin alphabet, next to Caravaggio’s Portrait of a Knight of Malta. Austin Camilleri’s commissioned sculpture and text installations present the written word, il-Malti, in various contexts. Salt, the product of land and sea, is the surface on which old Maltese is written and time, featured in neon and video, is read in Maltese next to a silent traditional Maltese clock known as Tal-Lira. Last but not least, Maltese stone is but the surface on which Maltese poetry is inscribed next to a historic document by architect Mederico Blondel (1659–98) reporting on the state of fortifications of the island also built in the fragile Globigerina limestone: instable ground for memorial inscriptions. Both concept and methodology have been purposely developed for BOZAR and presented here for the first time on the occasion of the Maltese Presidency of the European Union. This was not done single-handedly. I am most grateful to colleagues at the Presidency Working Group for Culture, Arts Council Malta, Heritage Malta, Architecture Project (AP), and BOZAR for their unfaltering support. Colleagues, old and new, and collaborators are given due credit in the first pages of the exhibition catalogue. I am most grateful to all of them for believing in this project, initially conceived around Caravaggio but which went way, way beyond. SANDRO DEBONO Exhibition Curator

25 January 2017 Catholic feast of the Conversion of St Paul the Apostle



The narrative of

Malta. Land of Sea Essays



Beyond Island of Stone The Maltese Islands in the Neolithic

INTRODUCTION What is Neolithic Malta? Often, both academic and general literature define Neolithic Malta in terms of megalithic temples, large stone complexes that are found in both Malta and Gozo. These stones have been transformed into a marker of contemporary identity with a well-defined boundary that hinges on their size and their being the oldest free-standing stone monuments in the world (Fig. 1). This tightly bounded view of Neolithic Malta obscures dynamic biographies of people and places who

Fig. 1 Aerial view of Ä gantija, Gozo


NOTES 1 David Trump, ‘The Prehistoric Pottery’, Malta Before History: The World’s Oldest Free Standing Stone Architecture, Daniel Cilia (ed), (Malta: Miranda, 2004), 243–267. 2 Robert Leighton, Sicily before History: An Archaeological Survey from the Palaeolithic to the Iron Age (London: Duckworth, 1999). 3 For a detailed discussion and photographic index of all known Neolithic figurines see Isabelle Vella Gregory, The Human Form in Neolithic Malta (Malta: Midsea Books, 2005). 4 Olivier P. Gosselain, ‘Materializing Identities: An African Perspective’, Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 7 (2000), 187–217. 5 Gosselain (2000), 187–217. 6 Mary Helms, Ulysses’ Sail: An Ethnographic Odyssey of Power, Knowledge and Geographical Distance (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988). 7 This discussion focuses on the Żebbuġ period. The subsequent Mġarr phase remains poorly known and is currently under further study by the author. 8 Isabelle Vella Gregory, ‘Tradition, Time and Narrative: Rethinking the Late Neolithic of the Maltese Islands,’ Malta Archaeological Review, 11 (2017), 16–24 9 Sebastiano Tusa, La Sicilia nella Preistoria, (Palermo: Sellerio editore, 1983). 10 For a detailed discussion on the interplay of scale see Isabelle Vella Gregory, ‘Immensity and Miniaturism: The Interplay of Scale in the Late Neolithic of the Maltese Islands’, Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 35 (2016), 329–344. 11 J.G. Baldacchino & J.D. Evans, ‘Prehistoric Tombs near Żebbuġ Malta’, Papers of the British School at Rome, 22 (1954): 1–21. 12 Caroline Malone, Simon Stoddart, David Trump & Corinne Duhig, ‘Żebbuġ Phase



14 15 16

17 18 19

levels: Spatial and stratigraphic analysis’, Mortuary Customs in Prehistoric Malta: Excavations of the Brochtorff Circle at Xagħra (1987–94), Caroline Malone, Simon Stoddart, Anthony Bonanno & David Trump (eds.), (Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2009), 95–107 – but see also Simon Stoddart, Geraldine Barber, Corinne Duhig, George Mann, Tamsin O’Connell, Luca Lai, David Redhouse Robert Tykot & Caroline Malone, (2009), 315–340 for a slightly different reading of the numbers. Caroline Malone, Anthony Bonanno, David Trump, John Dixon, Robert Leighton, Martyn Pedley, Simon Stoddart, Patrick J. Schembri, ‘Material culture’, in Caroline Malone, Simon Stoddart, Anthony Bonanno & David Trump (eds.), (2009), 219–313. Vella Gregory (2017), 16–24 Anthony Pace, ‘Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum’, Cilia (ed) 2004, 77–92. Reuben Grima, ‘Landscape, Territories, and the Life–Histories of Monuments in Temple Period Malta’, Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, 21:1 (2008), 35–56 and Reuben Grima, ‘Water, Geomythology and Cosmology in Late Neolithic Malta’, Accordia Resarch Papers, 14 (2016), 27–48. Grima (2008), 35–56 Anthony Pace, ‘Buġibba’, Cilia, (ed.), (2004), 161. Cf. Robin Skeates, ‘Axe Aesthetics: Stone Axes and Visual Culture in Prehistoric Malta’, Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 21 (2002), 13–22 and Simon Stoddart, ‘Long– term Dynamics of an Island Community: Malta 5500 BC–2000 AD’, Social Dynamics of the Prehistoric Central Mediterranean, Robert Tykot, J. Morter. & J.E. Robb (eds.), (London: Accordia Research Institute, 1999), 137–147.


The Maltese Galley A Taste of a Cosmpolitan Mediterranean

The Maltese galley was the epitome of Mediterranean navigation. Although no two ships are built the same way, the war galley was the product of centuries-old technologies from along the Mediterranean littoral. This low-lying, double-ended, oar- and sail-powered fighting machine had several versions and variants but the zenith of galley technology was undoubtedly the war galley. The advent of black powder introduced artillery pieces mounted on the bows while the rowing system also eventually changed. But the technology that went into constructing the galley remained more or less the same over time. Only the advent of steam relegated the galley to the pages of history. Before that time, the galley and its many smaller variations was considered to be the only warship capable of sailing into the wind. The Maltese galley was no different from other European or Mediterranean variants. Evidence suggests that, although galleys were built in Malta, many were also imported from various European and Mediterranean ports.1 The war galley was to all intents and purposes a Mediterranean vessel. In Malta it stood as a powerful symbol of the might and dominance of a European monastic Order which upheld its raison d’être by defending Christendom from Europe’s southernmost outpost. A detailed and closer look at the Maltese war galley unravels an aspect seldom explored: namely its multi-ethnic foodstuffs. Trans-continental cuisine probably set the Maltese galley apart from its counterparts and marked it as quintessentially Maltese. Over the centuries, this medieval Order had kept pace with modern innovations in both medicine and warfare, while acquiring non-Christian, nonEuropean, and even non-Mediterranean know-how to operate its galleys. The present study seeks to understand the extent of cosmopolitanism in the Maltese galley kitchen. The eighteenth-century Maltese galley kitchen represented an image of a cosmopolitan island on the frontier of Christendom with a taste for ingredients coming from across the globe. Not everyone on board had access to the same menu. Social class, rank, and roles stood for varied menus and diets. Meals served on board could be of two types and referred to as lean days (giorni magri) and fat days (giorni grassi).2 This meant 45



A Space of Land and Sea The early modern Harbour of Malta

INTRODUCTION When the Order of St John established itself on Malta (1530–1798) it set in motion a relentless process of transformation, in particular around the land that was washed by the waters of what they called the Porto Generale and what today we refer to as the Grand Harbour.1 Around these shores developed a dense port-conurbation that would come to consist of five cities: Valletta and Floriana on one flank, and Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua on the other. There was an intensive nexus – both physical and virtual – between these cities that was sustained by the daily crossing of several boats along this littoral, with the sea acting as a highway of communication. In turn, this ‘land-locked sea’ was not a self-contained world, but one which constantly interacted with both its hinterland and all the shores of the Mediterranean.2 The complex of bodies of water and stretches of land that constituted the early modern harbour of Malta was intended to be approached not so much from the land – as tends to be the case today for most visitors to Valletta – but from the sea, as attested to in the 1770s by the French artist Jean Hoüel (1735–1813): ‘The entrance to the harbour of Malta resembles a wide road. The port is formed on both sides by high rocks which rise vertically. Various tiers of batteries for cannon have been cut into these rocks. Some of these batteries are nearly at sea level, while others are situated on the highest peak of the rock-faces. The batteries are situated at different levels making it impossible for anyone to enter the harbour without the permission of the guards of these batteries.’3

Hoüel’s simile comparing the entrance to the harbour to a road blurs the line between land and sea; here one had the liminal space for entries and departures. His impression of the harbour as a conglomerate of rock and cannon emphasized Malta’s role as an island-fortress on the Christian-Muslim frontier. At this porous, yet keenly-guarded, water ‘gate’, the Order organized celebrations, saluted distinguished 35

NOTES 1 2 3 4

5 6



9 10 11 12

Joseph Muscat, Maltese Ports (1400–1800) (Malta, 2002), 2. Cf. Timmy Gambin (ed.), The Maltese Islands and the Sea (Malta, 2015). Thomas Freller, The Observing Eye. The French Artist Jean Hoüel in Malta (Malta, 2013), 54–6 . Emanuel Buttigieg, ‘The Hospitallers and the Grand Harbour of Malta: Culture and Conflict’, The Military Orders. Vol.6.1: Culture and Conflict in the Mediterranean World (London and New York, 2017), 177– 86. Freller, 98. Patricia Micallef, ‘The Vision of the Island of Malta and its Role in the Transformation of the Order’s Mission as Seen by the Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Traveller’, Islands and Military Orders, c.1291–c.1798, Emanuel Buttigieg and Simon Phillips (eds.) (Farnham, 2013), 119. Technically a bridge spans a piece of land. In English a device which facilitates boarding is called a ‘brow’ or a ‘gangway’; however, in this paper ‘bridge’ is used to denote a device for boarding/alighting from boats. This is because in the documents the word used was ‘ponte’ (bridge) and also for the sake of elegance and understanding. Bernard Aikema, Hand Brand, Fransje Kuyvenhoven, Dulcia Mijers, and Pierre Mens (eds.), Willem Schellinks’ Journey to the South, 1664–1665 (Rome, 1983). Joseph Muscat, The Gilded Felucca and Maltese Boatbuilding Techniques (Malta, 2003), 6–7. Aikema et al., 134–5. N[ational] L[ibrary of] M[alta] A[rchive of the] O[rder of] M[alta] 6426, f. 311, 26 November 1660. Ibid., f. xv. Cf. Susan Verdi Webster, Art and Ritual in Golden Age Spain: Sevillian Confraternities and the Processional Sculpture of Holy Week (Princeton, 1998), 3–4, 6–7, 168.


13 Cf. Tomaso Ricardi di Netro, ‘Il viaggio del re. Cerimoniali e significati nei viaggi dei Savoia nel Settecento’, La Barca Sublime: Palcoscenico regale sull’acqua, Elisabetta Ballaira, Silvia Ghisotti, and Angela Griseri (eds.), (Milan, 2012), 149–53. 14 NLM, AOM 262, f. 138r above – f.142r below, 7 December 1681. 15 NLM, AOM 262, f. 138r above – f. 142r below, 7 December 1681; f. 139v–40v above – f. 143v–4v below, 17 March 1681 Ab incarnatione (17 March 1682). 16 David R. Marshall, ‘Triumphal Arch’, in The Classical Tradition, eds. Anthony Grafton, Glenn W. Most, Salvatore Settis (Cambridge, Mass. – London, 2010), 954–6. 17 Josette Calleja, Timothy Gambin, and Emmanuel Magro Conti, ‘Merchant and trade facilities in Malta’s Grand Harbour’, Atlas Mercator. Merchants routes and trade cities in the Mediterranean, Lorenza de Maria and Angela Toro (eds.) (Rome, 2008), 19–74: 51–3. NLM Lib. MS. 20, ff. 88–9, 19 May 1746. 18 NLM, Lib. MS. 439, f. 325, 7 February 1643. 19 Christine Muscat, ‘Female Prostitution in Valletta, c.1630–c.1798’, Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Malta, 2017. 20 Alexander Bonnici, Storja ta’ l-Inkiżizzjoni ta’ Malta (Malta, 1994), Vol. III, 62. 21 Cf. Muscat, 30. 22 Joseph Muscat and Andrew Cuschieri, Naval activities of the Knights of St John 1530–1798 (Malta, 2002), 63. 23 NLM, AOM 267, f. 234v, June 1724. 24 Cf. Jayne Elisabeth Archer, Elizabeth Goldring, and Sarah Knight (eds.), The Progresses, Pageants and Entertainments of Queen Elizabeth I (Oxford, 2013). 25 Cf. Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory (London, 1995), 5–15. Alexandra Walsham, The Reformation of the Landscape. Religion, Identity & Memory in Early Modern Britain & Ireland (Oxford, 2012), 1–14.


Re-imagining Maltese space

This study deals with how some of the protagonists of Maltese Romantic and Modernist literature deal with the sea. Very often literature depicts the Maltese as being in awe of the sea, as being afraid of it, and unconnected with it. Two works that are notable exceptions to this rule are the adventure novel Lejn ix-Xemx (Towards the sun) by Ġużè Bonnici and the intense bilingual poetry of Daniel Massa in his collections Xibkatuliss (1989) and Barefoot in the Saltpans (2015). These works propose a different understanding of the relationship of the Maltese Islands with the sea that surrounds them, two radically different conceptions of the cultural and physical boundaries of Malta and the place of the protagonists within this reconstructed space. It was perhaps the influential Romantic poetry of Dun Karm Psaila (1871– 1961), ‘the grand old man of Maltese literature’,1 who wrote about the precariousness of the voyage at sea in some of his most memorable works and that set the tone for much of the literature about the sea written in Maltese. Dun Karm sets the dangers of a sea voyage against the warmth and unity of the rural home, with the family gathered around the table.2 In the Maltese Romantic world view, the home is every traveller’s point of reference and the land is every seafarer’s ultimate refuge. For Dun Karm, the sea is a powerful and fascinating, but capricious and often violent, male element. The nation-mother is the male traveller’s home, shelter, point of reference, refuge, hearth; and ‘land’, ‘l-art’, is feminine both in the Maltese language and in Dun Karm’s poetry. This Romantic figure is related to the metaphor of Nature as Woman; but Woman is also a metaphor of ‘what has been lost (left behind)’, and that ‘place called home’ is ‘frequently personified by, and partakes of the same characteristics as those assigned to, Woman/Mother/lover’.3 The woman is expected to ‘preserve the sphere of the intermingling of mind and body, to which the Man of Reason will repair for solace, warmth, and relaxation. If he is to exercise the most exalted form of Reason, he must leave soft emotions and sensuousness behind; woman will keep them intact for him’.4 While the adventurous male traveller is at sea, the feminine element is tied to the land.5 Travel poses the danger of loss but it also carries the potential of gain, ‘whether this gain be in the form of greater riches, power, experience, wisdom, or 53

Malta’s physical and cultural space; they relocate their ‘homeland’ to the sea. Bonnici shifts his attention to what happens on the surface of the sea, which he sees as the space in which networks of social relations and movements and communications can intersect. The community on Duminku Calleja’s galleon rejects the whole idea of an ethnically and culturally homogenized (national) community and proposes a regional community in which people of different origins come together to form a new, idealized family. Despite the culturally loaded name given to the galleon, the community on the Nostra Señora construct a particular constellation of social relations, meeting and weaving together at a particular locus. Massa’s sea becomes a metaphor of motherhood, and the depths of the Mediterranean Sea which he slips into become his motherland that extends beyond Malta to include the Mediterranean, especially that which is perceived to have given birth to Western civilization. Like Bonnici’s protagonist, the corsair captain Duminku Calleja, Massa’s persona is far more at home in the Mediterranean Sea than he is on land. After all, that’s where it all began.

NOTES A.J. Arberry, ‘Foreword’, Dun Karm Poet of Malta (Cambridge, 1961), vii. 2 Adrian Grima, ‘The Idealized NationMother of the Romantics and the Status Quo’, Symposia Melitensia, 5 (2008), 130. 3 Doreen Massey, Space, Place and Gender (Cambridge, 1994), 10–11. 4 Ibid. 5 Grima, ‘The Idealized Nation-Mother’, 131. 6 Georges Van Den Abbeele, Travel as Metaphor. From Montaigne to Rousseau (Minnesota, 1992), xvii. 7 A.J. Arberry, ‘Introduction’, A Maltese Anthology. ed. A.J. Arberry (Westport, Connecticut,[1960] 1975), xxiv. 8 Gabriele Schwab, Imaginary Ethnographies: Literature, Culture, and Subjectivity (New York, 2012), ‘Introduction’. 9 Ibid. 10 Ibid.. 11 Adrian Grima, ‘The Mediterranean Novel Defying Borders’, in Comparative Criticism: Minding Borders. In print. 12 Ġużè Bonnici, Lejn ix-Xemx (Malta, 1974), 160. 13 Ibid., 15. 14 Ibid., 92. 15 Grima, ‘The Mediterranean Novel Defying Borders’. 16 Bonnici, 131. 17 Doreen Massey, Space, Place and Gender (Cambridge, 1994), 154. 1


18 Carmel Cassar, Society, Culture and Identity in Early Modern Malta (Malta, 2000), 250. 19 Ibid.. 20 Massey, 154–5. 21 Adrian Grima, ‘To Move Forward in Exhilaration. Adrian Grima interviews Daniel Massa’, The Times of Malta, 25 August 2016. 22 Jim Crace, ‘Foreword’ in Daniel Massa, Barefoot in the Saltpans (Malta, 2015). 23 Christine Margerrison,‘Ces Forces Obscures de L’âme’. Women, Race and Origins in the Writings of Albert Camus (Amsterdam, 2008), 184. 24 Angelo Fàvaro, ‘Mediterraneità europea: arti, letterature, civiltà del Mediterraneo per rifondare l’identità del cittadino europeo del XXI secolo’. mediterraneita-europea.html. 25 Malika Mokeddem, N’zid (Paris, 2001), 25. 26 David Abulafia, The Great Sea. A Human History of the Mediterranean (London, 2011), 13. 27 Margerrison, 186. 28 Ibid., 184. 29 Abulafia, 14. 30 Adrian Grima, ‘Dominant Metaphors in Maltese Literature’. Unpublished Ph.D. disseration, University of Malta, 2003, 233– 4. 31 Ibid., 239–40.


Frontier Art History Malta: A case of ‘betwixt and between’

The Mediterranean island of Malta stands at the centre of networks, connections, and exchanges that have distinctively shaped its cultural identity. Malta’s history has, more often than not, been a case of ‘betwixt and between’ as diverse cultural influences left an impact on the island’s culture and art history. Malta’s cultural identity is guided by its geographic liminality, bridging with both sides of the African and European culture rift. It is also influenced by its political liminality which has shaped and defined its history as global empires sought to shape an essentially regional identity which was oftentimes Malta’s historic context. It stands to reason that Malta’s art history has many more connections, narratives, and chapters than might perhaps be acknowledged at present. An essentially European yardstick whose point of departure is the Italian supremacy of the Florentine Renaissance, to which Malta connects but very little, while the rethinking of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century art in the twentieth century, has to date shaped established yardsticks. MALTA: EUROPE’S HISTORIC FRONTIER The history and genesis of European Malta is the history of the periphery of Christian and Catholic Europe. Medieval Malta was an outpost on the continent’s frontier, and which became an island fortress with the arrival of the Knights of the Order of St John in 1530. Indeed, the history of the Knights concerns the retreating frontier of Christendom which, following the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1291, was pushed back in stages by Arab and Ottoman forces. The Knights, originally established as a Hospitaller Order in Jerusalem, later became a fully-fledged military Order and a maritime power in Rhodes. Retreat, understood as a reaction to expansion, kept the frontier defined, albeit difficult to chart accurately and defend effectively, particularly at sea. The Order consolidates the European presence in Malta and creates the required and long overdue military infrastructure on the continent’s southern flank before soon becoming an agent of 63

The stories of

Malta. Land of Sea Catalogue

The architectural complex of St Paul Outside the Walls (Rabat, Malta) is historically and devotionally important because it incorporates St Paul’s Grotto. It is the place where, according to an uncontested tradition, St Paul the Apostle in AD 60 founded the earliest Christian community in Malta. In 1617 the complex was divided between the local Church and the Order of St John. The Order spared no efforts to enhance its portion to embellish the area, using two of its best architects, Francesco Buonamici (1596– 1677) and Lorenzo Gafà (1639–1703). The growing population of Rabat could not afford to emulate the Order but a generous and wealthy benefactress, the Noble Cosmana Navarra (c.1600–87), commissioned the same architects and artists to create the desired sense of harmony in the construction of the parish church, built between 1653 and 1683. This silver and gilt-bronze sanctuary lamp was commissioned to Designed by the Maltese sculptor Melchiorre Cafà (1636–67) for the transept of St Anthony in the parish church is Melchiorre Cafà one of Malta’s finest sanctuary lamps and a noteworthy example within the corpus of Roman Baroque (Malta 1636–Rome 1667) sanctuary lamps. Unknown Roman The famous Maltese sculptor Melchiorre Cafà had left Malta for Rome around 1658 with a short Silversmith c.1666 return in January 1666 to discuss commissions for the Order, just one year before his premature death. 720x540mm During his short visit in 1666, Melchiorre’s brother, the architect Lorenzo, was working in St Paul’s St Paul’s Collegiate Church, (Rabat, Malta) both for the Order in St Paul’s Grotto and for Cosmana Navarra’s new church. Melchiorre Rabat–Malta received a double commission for the Rabat St Paul’s complex: a marble statue of St Paul commissioned Parish Inventory No. 180, by the Order for St Paul’s Grotto and a silver sanctuary lamp commissioned by Cosmana Navarra for 367–8. the parish church. As the church was not yet completed, it was probably too early for the benefactress to commission a statue. Instead, she commissioned a fine Baroque sanctuary lamp. The commission to Cafà is documented in Cosmana’s will of 28 November 1666 (Acts of Notary Nicola Allegritto, 28 November 1666, codicils dated 13 May 1684 and 23 January 1687 respectively). The text reads:

Silver and gilt-bronze sanctuary lamp

‘Item voluit et mandavit dicta domina testatrix quod infrascriptus dictum eius heres teneatur et sit obligatus apportare il lampiere d’argento quale di commissione di essa testatrices sta facendo in Roma il signor Melchiore Gafar voluitque et mandavit che detto lampiere cunctis perpetuis futuris temporibus inserviat et inservire debeat pro usu et servitio ac ornament praedictae eiuscappellae Sancti Antonii.’ Summarily in translation she ordered her executor to make sure that the silver sanctuary lamp which, on her commission, Melchiorre Cafà was completing in Rome, would in future be retained in the service and for the decoration of her chapel dedicated to St Anthony. The coat of arms of the Navarra family are inserted on each of the three chains of the lamp. The lamp carries the assay mark showing the keys of Rome and an unidentified maker’s mark showing an olive branch. When, almost 20 years later, Cosmana was constructing the church’s other transept, she insisted that the new sanctuary lamp for this new transept was to be as much as possible identical to Cafà’s fine silver and gilt-bronze sanctuary lamp in the opposite transept. The reference to Cafà’s commission was first published by the present writer in 1999. In 2003 the silver and gilt-bronze sanctuary lamp was included in an exhibition on Melchiorre Cafà, curated by art historian Dr Keith Sciberras, held at the then National Museum of Fine Arts (Valletta, Malta). The following brief description of the sanctuary lamp was compiled by Dr Jimmy Farrugia:

BIBLIOGRAPHY: FARRUGIA 1993, 24, item 142 a, b; AZZOPARDI 1999, 9 (i); AZZOPARDI 1999, (ii), 16–19; SCIBERRAS 2003; SCIBERRAS 2006, 97–112; AZZOPARDI 2006 in Melchiorre Cafà: Maltese Genius of the Roman Baroque, 113–30. Acts of Notary Nicola Allegritto: 28 November 1666; Codicil, 13 May 1684 and Codicil 23 January 1687

‘The lamp’s design and invention are extraordinarily bold and very much in the spirit of Roman Baroque decorative art. It is a lamp that attempts illusion, which lights up to create a sense of movement even in the permanence of metal …. The large pendant lamp has a baluster-shaped silver body with applied gilt-bronze decorations. The silver body is cast in four main pieces, the upper of which has been rudely cut and reassembled .… The silver parts are chased with flutes and floral motifs. Modelling is, however, relatively shallow. The central bombè body is applied with a bold beautifully modelled gilt bronze decoration consisting of three motifs of a cherub face within a scallop shell that are linked together by serpentine garlands of thick vegetal elements and light wafting ribbons. These alternate with three large acanthus motifs that rise to meet the three chains on which the lamp suspends. Out of the upper silver rim emerge large gilt-bronze tongues of fire that twist and twirl to animate the lamp with a vibrant voice. The lamp’s invention may have, ultimately been inspired by the elaborate ephemeral art of the Roman seicento.’ The lamp, normally conserved in the Rabat parish sacristies, is still exhibited in church on major feast days. In January 2005 the lamp was restored by Joseph Aquilina of Żejtun as slight damage had been caused owing to stress during frequent handling. JOHN AZZOPARDI




Multispouted lamp

11th-century(?) Terracotta 270x370mm National Museum of Archaeology (Heritage Malta) Inv. no. 33996


This terracotta lamp-holder has a lower, hollow chamber designed to accommodate the main light, with multiple spouts mushrooming from it outwards and upwards, some of which were apparently intended to hold smaller lights. The remarkable design of this lamp-holder, possibly one of a series emerging from a common source, is associated by the National Museum of Archaeology with the Arab period of Maltese history. Its provenance is unclear and its origin shrouded in uncertainty. With its lights in place, it must have shone like the artist imagined it: a resplendent sun, a crown of light casting its rays in different directions. The sun which cast its rays along the shores and islands of the ancient mare nostrum, the sun of Sol Invictus and of Mithras, took on different meanings and significance with the great monotheistic faiths of Christianity and Islam. Was the lamp-holder produced to light up the home of an upper-class family, or was it intended to adorn a place of worship? Was it ever actually used? Who made it, and where? The Central Bank of Malta reproduced it on a special issue of a commemorative 50 Maltese pound coin in 1977. Like the period of medieval Maltese history it has come to represent, it waits for the lamplighter to light up its past. The silence of records surrounding this work of art is itself symbolic of the state of knowledge concerning the Arab period of Maltese history. Following the long period of Byzantine or Eastern Roman rule in the Maltese islands (c.535–870), the Muslim forces of Aghlabid Tunisia, who were engaged in the conquest of Sicily, successfully besieged the islands in 869–70. The Aghlabid control (870–900), during which the archipelago may have suffered substantial devastation, ended with the emergence of the Fatimid empire in the tenth century. The rise of the Fatimids allowed Sicily to develop as a semi-autonomous emirate. The archaeology of late tenth-century Mdina seems to suggest signs of settlement and continuity. On the other hand, texts like Kitab Surat al-Ard, a geographical treatise by the tenth-century Mesopotamian traveller Muhammad Abu l-Qasim Ibn Hawqal, and Kitab al-Rawd al-Mitar, an encyclopaedia compiled by the later medieval chronicler Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Munim al-Himyari from earlier sources, paint a desolate picture of Malta in the 900s as an uninhabited island frequented by hunters and fishermen, timber cutters, and honey collectors. Al-Himyari dates the Muslim colonization of Malta to AH440/1048–49. The Madina of Malta was rebuilt, ‘and it became a finer place than it was before’. The settlement of Malta soon faced a Byzantine incursion which was beaten off by a remarkable alliance between the free masters and their slave soldiers. Byzantine hopes of recovering Sicily were permanently abandoned from the mid-eleventh century, opening the way for ambitious Norman adventurers to attempt their conquest of the troubled Muslim emirate. The Norman conquest of Sicily was gradually achieved between 1061 and 1091 under the command of the two brothers Robert Guiscard and Roger of Hauteville. Taking control of the government of Sicily, Roger the Great Count led in person an expedition against the Maltese islands which led to their annexation in 1091. Their Muslim communities were subjected as tributaries of Christian Sicily, while Christian captives formerly held by the Muslims in Malta were released and taken to Sicily where they were offered the chance to live in a new free town. The chronicler of the Sicilian conquest, Geoffrey Malaterra, wrote a vivid description of the deliverance of the Christian captives from the Muslim colony. The Maltese islands and their Muslim Qaid were subjected to later punitive expeditions by the Count’s son, the future King Roger II, and his Admiral, George of Antioch. Malta’s transition from Dar al-Islam to Latin Christendom was very gradual. Bishops of Malta are clearly documented by the mid-twelfth century, although the island was still descibed as ‘inhabited by Saracens’ around 1175. The islands were given as a county to the Sicilian Admiral Margaritus by the last Norman King, Tancred, who was defeated by Henry VI Hohenstaufen in 1194. The Christians and Muslims of Malta were addressed in separate Latin and Arabic royal charters by Constance of Sicily, the widow of Henry VI, days before her death in November 1198. Under Count Henry of Malta, a Genoese Admiral of Sicily who served her son Frederick II Hohenstaufen, Malta served as a base for ambitious plans to extend Genoese control over Crete. The Maltese islands were home to a substantial Muslim population until the mid-thirteenth-century expulsions ordered by Frederick. Notwithstanding the end of Islam in Malta, the population continued to speak the Arabic mother tongue, which eventually became the Maltese language. A Jewish community also thrived in the islands down to 1492. Bridging Europe and Africa across the waters of the mare nostrum, the Maltese islands were already something of a microcosm of Mediterranean history by the time that the Knights of St John settled in 1530 to make it their new home. From an eleventh-century outpost of Islam to sixteenth-century Christian fortress, the history of Malta is also the story of a long encounter between the two shores of neighbouring civilizations. A diaspora of people, a diffusion of cultures, the interchange of people and ideas, and so many conflicts: Mediterranean history radiates from this inner, liquid core shaped by the shell of coastlines which encircle it. Like the rays of light waiting to be cast by the lamp-holder, the search by scholars of this common past has to proceed unhindered and in all directions. CHARLES DALLI





The Contemporary Land of Sea Contributions



A fresh Maltese breeze With wide open windows, full-bodied voices, joyful fragrances and smiling arms, with tongues red carpets rolled out, be welcomed, traveller treading the cloth of worlds within worlds braided, be welcomed, reader and listen to the song of a thousand stories upon faces engraved Merħba, a poem of hospitality

Antoine Cassar

Awarded the Grand Prize of the United Planet Writing Contest in September 2009

A welcoming fresh breeze is coming from the Mediterranean. It is coming from Malta, a small member-state of the European Union 80 km south of Italy and close to the Libyan and Tunisian borders, in the middle of the sea at the crossroads of Europe and Africa. With a population of about 420,000 and covering just over 316 km2 it is one of the world’s smallest and most densely populated countries. Everybody is related to everybody elsi in one way or another. Festas and bands colour the localities. Life is full of energy. Covering 7,000 years of culture, the islands always played a strategic role in that part of the Mediterranean and have been challenged by different cultures throughout history. Independent since 1964, becoming a republic 10 years later and joining the European Union 30 years after, Malta had been searching for its own identity quite a lot. In ‘Shaping of a National Identity’, Anthony M. Abela remarks about the shift from a strong traditional local identity to a more Mediterranean and European sense of belonging, particularly when Malta became member of the EU in 2004. One has to know, Abela states, that ‘the emotional transmission of an inherited national identity, which has so far been driven by people’s attachment to the Church and religion, party politics, local and social solidarity, traditionalism and materialism, is gradually giving way to the reshaping of a national identity in a new social context. The latter is influenced by individualized values, the importance of leisure, and a concern with global solidarity’1

Fifteen years later this change is noticeable. Wandering through the streets of Malta’s capital city, Valletta, one cannot ignore the feeling of vibrancy in the air. Valletta’s city gate has been reconstructed. Renzo Piano’s Parliament Building at the entrance to Valletta merges new and old architecture in a perfect way and, on the ruins of the former Royal Opera House known as Teatru Real, a new open-air theatre has been built as part of an all189

funds and multi-annual projects with international collaboration are encouraged. Valletta 2018, the Arts Council, and the Presidency Working Group joined forces to launch a second version of the Malta Showcase. Artist residencies are running thanks to Blitz (an independent, not-for-profit, project space in Valletta, which supports experimental and radical arts practice and residencies in all its forms) and thanks to the collaboration between Valletta 2018 and Spazju Kreattiv on that behalf. Sustainable international relations are developed across Europe and the Mediterranean. Malta will again be present at the Venice Biennale after 19 years of silence. The cultural program of the presidency developed in collaboration with Valletta 2018 and the Arts Council also seeks to highlight Malta’s strengths and identity? A key remit to all this is the internationalization of the artists and their work. But the programme is not just a showcase of what Malta has to offer on a cultural level. It also strengthens existing relationships, interacts with communities about the future, and gives citizens a voice through the citizen journalism project. One can say that Malta holds the promise of exciting times for artists and creative people today. When talking to young artists they recognize that there is now a climate to set out one’s own journey. One is more mobile and receives more input and critical views from the outside. A new momentum is clearly felt and a new fertile ground is tangible again as there was for artists at the beginning of the century when Malta joined the EU and artist collectives, such as START, engaged with specific historical spaces rather than a gallery or a museum to set up exhibitions. Their legacy is now present in the current generation of young artists. Hopefully more initiatives like Blitz might see the light in the coming years, so that more spaces to experiment will be available for the creative sector. There is still a long way to go but the strategy is a step in the right direction, and the present events create capacity and opportunities to develop. All those involved in the consultation for Create 2020, the strategy launched by Arts Council Malta, agree on the value of the arts, their centrality, their importance in fostering a sense of belonging, understanding, and connecting … and thus place the arts and creativity at the heart of Malta’s future. So let’s feel welcome, take the invitation, ‘Catch the Maltese breeze and see where it takes us to.’


2 3

Anthony M. Abela, ‘Shaping a National Identity. Malta in the European Union’, International Journal of Sociology, vol. 35, No. 4, Winter 2005–06, 10. Cultural Heritage Act, CAP. 445. A survey held among local councils in 2015 showed that 78% of these councils believe culture has been given a higher priority on the governments political agenda: Marie


Briguglio, ‘Cultural Participation in Malta: The Who, the How and the Why’, in On Culture Mapping Valletta 2018, Vicky Cremona (ed.) (Malta, 2016), 17–19. 4 See website: 5 Create 2020 Strategy Arts Council Malta 2016–2020. 6 Karsten Xuereb, ‘Urban regeneration & Valletta 2018’, in Cremona (ed.), 195.


On Austin Camilleri and Pierre Portelli Telling the story of the sea is never an innocent enterprise Elena Margerita Past

Various aspects of the exhibition ‘Malta – Land of Sea’ propose to look at paradoxes inscribed in living on an island in the middle of the sea: paradoxes of the fluid and the built, of welcoming and protecting, coming and going throughout time and history. One can say on a geo-physical level that Malta is a coalition of water and land. On a geo-political level, the archipelago is a field of encounters and clashes between transAtlantic Realpolitik and the Global South, the East, and the West of the world, of political, religious conflicts and of large-scale migrations. Whereas ‘island’ and ‘sea’ have always suggested a mode familiarized by a certain nostalgia filled with rites, rituals and mythologies – and which inspired the arts throughout centuries – for a long time and in contrast Malta has mainly served military purposes. Nevertheless ‘island’ and ‘sea’ advocate two opposite ways of thinking about territory, community, or landscape. The seemingly borderless world of seas, that of trading goods, people and ideas, inscribes a sense of infinity and openness whereas the island seems to create a sense of isolation and of boundary. This reciprocity of land and sea generate the paradox of what we could call the ‘islandness’ of the Maltese archipelago, which varies in scales of time, of space and that of memory and metaphors. The two contemporary Maltese artists Austin Camilleri and Pierre Portelli were asked to bring in a contemporary perspective on the past and moreover of living ‘with the past’ in the ‘Land of Sea’. Austin Camilleri and Pierre Portelli were commissioned to produce a series of interventions for the exhibition which reflect and dialogue with objects representing Malta’s history, its material realities and physical layers from the perspective of today. The two artists respond to different exhibition chapters by taking a deeper look at the notion of transformation, which they particularly find in traces and sometimes unnoticed remains of the stormy and complex past of occupations, uprootings, and caesuras – and as a matter of fact cultural losses and (un)intentional forgotten. Camilleri and Portelli are intrigued by and relate their artistic works to Elena Margerita Past, ‚Island Hopping, Liquid Materiality, and the Mediterranean Cinema of Emanuele Crialese’, Ecozona, Vol. 4, No. 2.




Port 01 I wish to communicate with you. Port 03 All persons should report on board as the vessel is about to proceed to sea. Port 04 Affirmative Remember what it is like to be immersed in water… The muted sensation of being submerged in another medium, where the rules change... Remember tumbling under a crashing wave as a child, gasping for air as you emerge; scared, dishevelled, overwhelmed by your unpreparedness for the event; keen to return to the thrill of it or unwilling to try again …1 The definition of the word to ‘immerse’ is ‘to dip or submerge in a liquid; to be completely involved in something’. The narrative-specific installations, created by the Maltese contemporary artist Pierre Portelli, have a multisensory aspect inspired by sound, conceived to engage visitors in a stimulating and dynamic manner. His works blur and reinvent the traditional boundaries between audience and exhibited objects, opening up possibilities of involvement.2 Reflecting a deliberate curatorial choice, there is no linear narrative in this series of installations, in dialogue with the other objects as well as with those who interact with them. The narrative is intentionally layered and open to multiple interpretations, creating immersive environments through sound, and transforming audiences into active participants. Pierre Portelli has been creating such immersive experiences and interventions for a number of years. He was one of the founding members of the contemporary art group based in Malta called START, and he has been ever since engaged in a continuous search for spaces and the need to intervene with his thought provoking site specific, conceptual installations. If the visitors ‘allow’ immersion to happen they have the possibility to be engaged in Portelli’s poetic and performative installations. The experience can gently and subtly play with the participants’ memories and imagination, as juxtaposed with historic objects, artefacts, and artworks, transporting them down to the warm south, to the southernmost capital of Europe: to the sacred land of the sea, immersing them into the evocative imagery of the Mediterranean. They can export the visitor, across the sounds of the Grand Harbour, and into the fortified Baroque city, where the Catholic Church bells ring and the cloistered nuns in their monastery sing the Te Deum Laudamus in praise of Alla. The Maltese language, a Semitic language written in the Latin script, is also presented in this exhibition through the sounds of the oldest piece of surviving Maltese literature, the poem 199

In 2014 Pierre Portelli was also commissioned to create four artistic projects to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Republic of Malta. One of the projects, a large megaphone shaped steel structure, entitled ‘rePUBBLIKA’ was placed at Pjazza Teatru Rjal, near the entrance of the capital city Valletta, symbolic of the piazza, a contested but highly democratic space, itself synonymous with citizen gatherings and free expression. Strategically placed facing one side of the new Parliament building designed by Renzo Piano, ‘rePUBBLIKA’ celebrated the role of the citizen as the main protagonist in the democratic process of the Nation State. This was reflected in the use of sound and voice as the projection of democratic process and participation. In keeping with the previous installations ‘rePUBBLIKA’ was an interactive work which invited the viewers to become active participants by projecting their voices through its mouthpiece, an articulation and celebration of the founding principles of the Republic which include fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual including freedom of expression.10 Kirshenblatt Gimblett argues that for an ‘exhibition to be memorable, the experience must be emotional, but to be worth remembering, it must be thought provoking’.11 The installations by Portelli explore the meta-historical relationships between the past and the present. The sounds he presents offer a sample of the fusion as well as the complexities found in Malta. Questions on the island’s national and cultural identity persist, as do questions on its contemporary interpretation, on which stories to tell and how to tell them. Portelli’s installations immerse audiences inthe hybrid world down south, allowing them to question and contemplate on the complex fusion that each and every one of us truly is. Through Portelli’s narrativespecific installations, the ‘Land of the Sea’ blurs its borders and barriers, connecting the North with the South in multiple ways. The sounds of the Mediterranean have the potential to bridge the surrounding lands, allowing journeys of discovery and hopefully of transformation. They also provide the missing pieces for new narratives to evolve, as the land of the sea provokes thoughts of who we are and aspire to be. NOTES J. Machon, Immersive Theatres. Intimacy and Immediacy in Contemporary Performance (London, 2013), xiv. 2 3 4 A. Jackson and J. Kidd (eds.) (2011) Performing Heritage: Research, Practice and Innovation in Museum Theatre and Live Interpretation (Manchester and New York, 2011) 5 A. Jackson and J. Kidd, Performance, Learning and Heritage, Report on the research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, July 2005– November 2008, Centre for Applied Theatre Research, University of Manchester, 2008, 81.




The titles of Portelli’s installations derive from the International Maritime Signal Flags system. 7 A.T. Luttrell, Medieval Malta. Studies on Malta Before the Knights, (London, 1975), 66-7. 8 The poem was written down by Caxaro’s nephew Brandano in his notarial register (Dec. 1533–May 1563). 9 10 11 B. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, ‘A theater of history: 12 principles’ in author Tygodnik Powszechny (Place of Publication, 2014).


Melħ (Salt), 2017. Mediterranean sea salt Issa Dalam (Now it’s Dark) Il-Ħdax (11 o’clock), 2017. Neon and Full HD video, duration: 7:59:59 ‘Where there is no passage of time, there is also no moment of time, in the full and most essential meaning of the word. If taken outside its relationship to past and future, the present loses its integrity, breaks down into isolated phenomena and objects, making of them a mere abstract conglomeration.’ Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays The two pieces on display were commissioned to Austin Camilleri as text installations inspired by Malta’s national language – il-Malti. Its origins can be traced back to Siculo-Arabic, the Arabic language that developed in Sicily and was later introduced to Malta, between the ninth and the twelfth century. Its grammar was developed much later during the mid-eighteenth century by Gian Pietro Francesco Agius de Soldanis (1712–70) and its vocabulary is drawn primarily from Italian, Sicilian, and English, while the original Semitic base typically comprises words that signify basic ideas and the function of words. Indeed, language stands as a fragment of the Maltese archipelago’s culture. Being the only Semitic language written in Latin script in its standard form is rather sensational, and this is where the artist’s intervention comes in – to make this experience more noteworthy. As contemporary visual artworks, these text installations are means of communication and narrative. They belong to a context where everyday issues and stories, including the rise of globalization, technology, and identity dominate. This is probably the reason why various artists began using text and language as a crucial vehicle to connect with the viewer. In fact, the incorporation of language shifted towards ideas and systems that invited viewers to engage with an intellectual concept. In 1967, during the early revolutions of contemporary art, Sol leWitt coined the term ‘conceptual art’ and, together with Joseph Kosuth and many others, represented a fundamental strand in the conceptual art movement. The conceptual artists’ language has become an important medium of the visual art exhibit since, as in the case of Kosuth’s works, it examined the conceptual and representational shift between the identity of words and the reality of things through language.1 This has led to a deepened consideration of the institutional, social, cultural, and political condition of art. This artistic approach made the use of language extremely popular as a powerful medium and a vital theme in contemporary visual art. Over the years, language has become a tool for exploring different themes. During the 1980s it responded to philosophical and linguistic theories and, in the following decades, moved away from that direction to a 205



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Malta is a Mediterranean territory of land and

sea. Its history is inspired by the ways and means how the two connect and merge, overlap and retreat. Dominant civilisations have engaged with this unique cultural landscape over time. All have contributed threads to its cultural weave; many lost, some forgotten, and others highlighted. Indeed, rather than being a frontier, engaging with the perceived consequences of Samuel Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilisations’, Malta stands as, betwixt and between, within a region of land and sea which connects beyond frontiers and borders. This book questions the traditional dialectic between land and sea, oftentimes understood as two elements meeting at a frontier shoreline. Land and sea have been understood as separate albeit connected spaces of unities, diversities, or both. The elements which connect the two are broad and varied, and can also be read and construed as one. Indeed, Malta’s cultural landscape can be read and understood as a space of land and sea with common origins, history, and heritage. Nine categories of carefully selected heritage objects and artworks in different media present Malta’s Land of Sea. The single object acquires new meanings within its category and connects to others across the different categories. Relationships between objects in each category are carefully articulated and connect to the present in varied ways. Indeed, the past which the nine categories engage with can also be understood as a series of reference points for new readings and stories to unfold.

Malta. Land of Sea  

Exhibition Catalogue, Malta EU Presidency, Bozar Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels, 17 February - 28 May. Malta is a Mediterranean territory o...

Malta. Land of Sea  

Exhibition Catalogue, Malta EU Presidency, Bozar Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels, 17 February - 28 May. Malta is a Mediterranean territory o...