baħar abjad imsaġar taż-żebbuġ

Under the Patronage of
His Excellency the President of Malta

and

Can You Sea?: The Mediterranean  as a political body

Locations:

Armoury, Birgu;

Photo: Laure Prouvost, No More Front Tears, 2022, film still at 15.45.58

…and they took soundings and found it to be twenty fathoms; 
and when they had gone a little farther, 
they took soundings again and found it to be fifteen fathoms.
St. Luke, The Evangelist

Hydrography in Malta goes as far back as 60AD – it features in the New Testament, when the Apostle Luke gives an account of how the vessel on which he and St. Paul were travelling, was caught in a tempest that would end in shipwreck on the rocky Maltese shores.

The Phoenicians bestowed the name of Melite, meaning refuge, to these islands, and there is reason to believe that the attraction to settling in Malta at that time was the accessible, yet naturally defensible topography, as well as its vegetation – Fertile est Melite, wrote Ovid in the third book of his Fasti. On a calm day, a ship can sail into the many natural harbours with ease, and, if we are to believe Ovid, centuries ago would have found fecundity and vegetation.

First inhabited in around 5900 BC, then repopulated in 3850 BC by a civilisation which at its peak built the Megalithic Temples, dated to be amongst the oldest surviving structures in the world, and once again reinhabited during the Bronze Age, we cannot but wonder where these people had sailed from, where their ships had been built, and whether they were able to settle here without conflict. 

Across the Mediterranean sea, which was not always viewed as a homogenous whole, political divides and territorial lines were often more fluid out at sea. In 1524, the Knights sent a commission to inspect Malta who discovered what Braudel defines as ‘an isolated world’, a backwater on the periphery of emerging Europe. It was the natural harbours that secured a new reality for Malta, that then became aligned along major trading routes and transformed into a ‘frontier territory’.

Malta has been in turn a refuge, a hideaway, a port, a silo, a defender and ‘brave fortress’ – our geopolitical significance is indelibly linked to our maritime identity. It is the sea that has shaped the land, and defined Malta’s trajectory. It is the sea that has brought inhabitants to these shores, to struggle and to thrive throughout the ages, and it is the sea that has taken us away as migrants to Tunisia, Algeria and Alexandria, to Australia, Canada, the UK and the United States. Unwittingly, we have been importing and exporting language, customs and beliefs. Diasporic dwelling, when viewed as a lenticular process involving oscillation between a multiplicity of realities as defined by Australian anthropologist Ghassan Hage, allows for that plurality to form ‘one’ identity, not confined to one place, but spread across continents.

Malta lays claim to territorial waters of 12 nautical miles – the waves that flow towards us, just as soon bounce back until they reach another shore, and in this way the people of this region have always been connected, travelling across the sea that is irremediably wild and refractory to domestication, alien to containment and control. As we steer from land to sea, from air to water, we propose for the participatory artists and voices of the biennale to explore ways to occupy this ‘space’ without claiming it, steering away from the confinements of territorial discourse toward a dialectic that is free and unbound, just at the sea has always been.

Curatorial Team

Bħall-Baħar, Aħna
Il-Mediterran bħala korp politiku

Tefgħu l-qjies u sabu għoxrin qama. Ftit aktar ’il bogħod
reġgħu tefgħu l-qjies u sabu ħmistax. 
San Luqa l-Evanġelista

L-idrografija f’Malta tmur lura sas-sena 60 WK – tidher fit-Testment il-Ġdid meta l-Appostlu Luqa jirrakkonta kif il-bastiment li kien qiegħed jivvjaġġa fuqu ma’ San Pawl inqabad f’tempesta li spiċċat f’nawfraġju fuq il-blat tax-xtut Maltin.

Il-Feniċi taw l-isem Melite, jiġifieri kenn, lil dawn il-gżejjer, u għandna għax nemmnu li min kien jixħet l-ankri f’Malta dak iż-żmien kien ikun tħajjar mit-topografija aċċessibbli, iżda naturalment difensibbli, kif ukoll mill-veġetazzjoni tagħha – Fertile est Melite kiteb Ovidju fit-tielet ktieb tal-Fasti tiegħu. F’ġurnata kalma, bastiment jista’ jbaħħar fil-bosta portijiet naturali tagħha bla xkiel u, jekk tassew nistgħu nemmnu lil Ovidju, sekli ilu kien isib il-fertilità u l-veġetazzjoni.

Meta nqisu li din l-art kienet abitata għall-ewwel darba lejn is-sena 5900 QK, imbagħad ippopolata mill-ġdid fis-sena 3850 QK minn ċiviltà li fl-aqwa tagħha bniet strutturi megalitiċi ddatati fost l-eqdem binjiet eżistenti fid-dinja, u wara abitata għal darb’oħra fi Żmien il-Bronż, ma nistgħux ma nistaqsux mnejn kienu baħħru dawn in-nies, fejn kienu nbnew il-bastimenti tagħhom, u jekk setgħux jokkupaw il-gżira mingħajr kunflitti.

Madwar il-Mediterran, baħar li mhux dejjem tqies bħala xi ħaġa omoġenja intiera, il-firdiet politiċi u l-linji territorjali fuq il-baħar ħafna drabi kienu jkunu aktar fluwidi. Fl-1524, kummissjoni mibgħuta mill-Kavallieri biex tispezzjona lil Malta skopriet dik illi Braudel iddefinixxa bħala ‘dinja iżolata’, art remota fil-periferija tal-Ewropa emerġenti. Kienu l-portijiet naturali li żguraw realtà ġdida għal Malta, li mbagħad ġiet allinjata matul rotot kummerċjali ewlenin u mibdula f’‘territorju fruntiera’.

Malta l-ewwel kienet refuġju, imbagħad moħba, port, silo, imbagħad difensura u ‘fortizza qalbiena’ – is-sinifikat ġeopolitiku tagħna huwa marbut bil-fiss mal-identità marittima tagħna. Huwa l-baħar li sawwar l-art u ddefinixxa t-trajettorja ta’ Malta. Huwa l-baħar li ġab abitanti f’dawn ix-xtut biex jissieltu u jirnexxu matul iż-żminijiet, u huwa l-baħar li ħadna ’l hemm miegħu bħala migranti lejn it-Tuneżija, l-Alġerija u Lixandra, lejn l-Awstralja, il-Kanada, ir-Renju Unit u l-Istati Uniti. Bla ttendejna, importajna u esportajna l-lingwa, l-użanzi u l-kredi. L-abitazzjoni dijasporika, meta titqies bħala proċess lentikulari li jinvolvi t-tbandil bejn multipliċità ta’ realtajiet kif iddefinit mill-antropologu Awstraljan Ghassan Hage, tagħti lok biex dik il-pluralità ssawwar identità ‘waħda’ mhux limitata għal post wieħed iżda mifruxa mal-kontinenti kollha.

Malta għandha ibħra territorjali ta’ 12-il mil nawtiku – il-mewġ li jaħbat fuqna jerġa’ lura mnejn ġie daqstant ieħor bilġri sakemm jilħaq xi xatt ieħor, u b’dan il-mod in-nies ta’ dan ir-reġjun dejjem kienu konnessi, jivvjaġġaw fuq baħar sfrenat bla rkaptu u reżistenti għad-domestikazzjoni – baħar illi ma jafx bi lġim jew b’kontroll. Aħna u ngħaddu mill-art għall-baħar, mill-arja għall-ilma, nipproponu li l-artisti u l-vuċijiet parteċipattivi tal-biennale jesploraw modi kif jokkupaw dan l-‘ispazju’ mingħajr ma jgħodduh b’tagħhom, billi jinfatmu mid-djuq tad-diskors territorjali ħalli jimxu lejn djalettika ħielsa, bla rbit, bħalma l-baħar dejjem kien.

It-Tim Kuratorjali 

Scientific partners / Kollaborazzjoni Xjentifika:

Other Themes

The Counterpower of Piracy

Decolonising Malta: Polyphony Is Us

The Matri-archive of the Mediterranean