baħar abjad imsaġar taż-żebbuġ

Under the Patronage of
His Excellency the President of Malta

and

The Counterpower of Piracy

Locations:

Gozo Cultural Centre;

Grain Silos, Gozo;

Photo: Artist: Daniel Jablonski Hy Brazil, 2018-2020; 02 light-boxes with 37 interchangeable prints on acrylic plates, with 0,5mm laser engravings (70 x 100 cm each) Photo credit: Filipe Berndt

We should look at Corsairing as a motor of the Maltese economy 
at the time – just like freeport and digital gaming are now.                                                       
 Liam Gauci


The sea that surrounds the Maltese archipelago has long been a course of danger and opportunity. Its central position in the Mediterranean has made it susceptible to enemy incursions—primarily the Ottoman Empire at its peak. It also allowed for a base from which an organised fleet could engage in lucrative trade, attacking enemy ships and raiding ports for profitable plunder.

At the time of the arrival of the Hospitaller Knights of Saint John in 1530, the Mediterranean was made up of various small seas, with islands such as Malta providing a vital communicating bridge along the transversal route, often dangerous and challenging. Forming an alliance with the crusaders, these sea adventurers were able to ‘run’ the sea, targeting ‘Turkish’ vessels and any other ships seen as an opportunity to seize booty. Pirates paid a fixed quota to the island’s government and were key players in the slave trade, as well as in providing valuable goods, grain and essential food supplies.

Piracy lasted for almost three hundred years, enriching Malta and causing diplomatic issues for the Knights. Greek or French ships were often attacked under the pretext of hiding infidels. Some pirate captains such Guglielmo Lorenzi or Alfonso de Contreras became famous, whilst others faced prosecution and hanging. At its peak, Maltese piracy employed about 4,000 people, with a total of 30 corsair galleys, and played a central role in ransoming Christian slaves held by Ottoman countries. The end of piracy coincided with the demise of the Knights and Napoleon’s arrival in 1798.

Who were these pirates? Many had travelled from Mediterranean ports, fleeing crimes, working alongside the Maltese. Their on-board organisation has been interpreted by many historians as self-managed, a prototype for a society of equals. Scholars such as anthropologist David Graeber, have reconstructed pirate utopias, an example of which is the one that emerged at a certain point in Libertalia, a pirate city in Madagascar. Today, piracy inspires libertarian thinkers, who believe it represented a form of counterpower that escaped the control of governments and multinational corporations. Thinkers such as Heller Roazen find in pirates the ‘enemy of all’, represented today by figures like Julian Assange. Hackers, saboteurs of computer networks, those capable of turning the digital world to the advantage of autonomous and grassroots organisations, self-identify as ‘pirates’. Activism, solidarity, rescue missions for migrants at sea, community networks, day-care centres, and self-managed health centres align with this image. 

Whether it corresponds to the true history of piracy is not so important. Just as it is not important to think of kings and queens as more than archetypes. Pirates have always been part of our childhood imagination, as their literary and cinematic success teaches us. At 450 Valencia Street in San Francisco, novelist Dave Eggers has opened a store selling bandages, hooks, headgear and scarves for aspiring pirates – outlaws who defy established rules and ‘go to sea’ which is the ultimate symbol of freedom. From this perspective, the story of Malta is also one of changing flags; corsairs who, depending on the political situation or the loot obtained in a raid, changed their flag – the one that mattered most was that of the Grand Master, the only one that could escape the Vatican court.

Today, the island hosts many places that recall the maritime history of captures and liberations, trade and slavery, glorious and less glorious enterprises, stories of Muslim slaves falling in love with their master’s daughters, tales of love escapes in caves and pursuits, miraculous rescues of ships and people, chapels and churches built to thank for escaping Turkish piracy. Keeping this framework in mind provides us with a vivid idea of the sites in which the biennale will unfold, such as in palaces that have been touched by the history of piracy.

Piracy serves us to reconsider the meaning of the Mediterranean, which continues to be the ‘mirror boundary’ between seemingly disparate cultures. It is the place where the confrontation between Islam and Europe continues to play out as a hope for coexistence, it represents the obstacle that Europe must redefine, so as to invent a future of two-way exchanges, and broader well-being.

Curatorial Team

Il-Kontropoter tal-Piraterija

Għandna nħarsu lejn is-sibi bħala mutur tal-ekonomija Maltija 
ta’ dak iż-żmien – bħalma huma llum il-port ħieles u l-logħob diġitali. 
Liam Gauci

Il-baħar li jdawwar l-arċipelagu Malti minn dejjem kien perkors ta’ periklu u opportunità. Il-pożizzjoni ċentrali tiegħu fil-Mediterran għamlitu vulnerabbli għall-invażjonijiet mill-għedewwa – primarjament mill-Imperu Ottoman fl-aqwa tiegħu. Ipprovda wkoll bażi li minnha flotta organizzata setgħet tidħol f’kummerċ jirrendi, tattakka bastimenti tal-għadu u twettaq rejds fil-portijiet għal sakkeġġi fejjieda.

Meta waslu l-Kavallieri Ospitalieri ta’ San Ġwann fl-1530, il-Mediterran kien magħmul minn diversi ibħra żgħar, bi gżejjer bħal Malta jipprovdu pont vitali ta’ komunikazzjoni tul rotta trasversali spiss imwiegħra u skabruża. Billi ħolqu alleanza mal-kruċjati, dawn l-avventurieri tal-baħar setgħu ‘jidderieġu’ l-baħar billi jimmiraw fuq bastimenti ‘Torok’ u fuq kwalunkwe xini ieħor meqjus bħala opportunità għall-ħtif tal-buttin. Il-pirati kienu jħallsu kwota fissa lill-gvern tal-gżira u kellhom sehem ewlieni fil-kummerċ tal-iskjavi u fil-fornitura ta’ oġġetti prezzjużi, qamħ u provvisti ta’ ikel essenzjali.

Il-piraterija damet tul kważi tliet mitt sena, arrikkiet lil Malta u ħolqot kwistjonijiet diplomatiċi għall-Kavallieri. Il-bastimenti Griegi jew Franċiżi kienu spiss attakkati bl-iskuża li jaħbu l-infidili. Xi kaptani tal-pirati bħal Guglielmo Lorenzi jew Alfonso de Contreras saru famużi, mentri oħrajn iffaċċjaw prosekuzzjoni u ngħataw il-forka. Fl-aqwa tagħha l-piraterija Maltija kienet tħaddem madwar 4,000 ruħ, b’total ta’ 30 xini tal-furbani, u kellha rwol ċentrali fil-fidwa ta’ skjavi Kristjani miżmuma minn pajjiżi Ottomani. It-tmiem tal-piraterija ħabat mal-waqgħa tal-Kavallieri u mal-wasla ta’ Napuljun fl-1798.

Min kienu dawn il-pirati?

Ħafna kienu vvjaġġaw minn portijiet Mediterranji, ħarbu minn reati u ħadmu flimkien mal-Maltin.

L-organizzazzjoni tagħhom abbord ġiet interpretata minn bosta storiċi bħala awtoġestita – prototip ta’ soċjetà tal-ugwali. Skulari bħall-antropologu David Graeber bnew mill-ġdid utopiji tal-pirati, bħal pereżempju dik illi ħarġet f’ċertu punt fil-Libertalija, belt tal-pirati fil-Madagaskar. Illum il-piraterija tispira lil ħassieba libertarji li jemmnu li din kienet tirrappreżenta forma ta’ kontropoter illi ħarbet mill-kontroll tal-gvernijiet u tal-korporazzjonijiet multinazzjonali. Ħassieba bħal Heller Roazen fil-pirati jidentifikaw ‘l-għadu ta’ kulħadd’ – dak irrappreżentat illum minn persunaġġi bħal Julian Assange. Il-hackers, jiġifieri dawk li jagħmlu sabutaġġ fuq in-networks tal-kompjuter, dawk li kapaċi jdawru lid-dinja diġitali għall-vantaġġ ta’ organizzazzjonijiet awtonomi u ta’ bażi, jidentifikaw ruħhom bħala ‘pirati’. L-attiviżmu, is-solidarjetà, il-missjonijiet ta’ salvataġġ tal-migranti fuq il-baħar, in-networks komunitarji, iċ-ċentri tal-kura u ċ-ċentri awtoġestiti tas-saħħa jikkonkordaw ma’ din l-immaġni.

Jekk din tikkorrispondix tabilħaqq mal-istorja vera tal-piraterija mhux daqstant importanti. Bħalma mhux importanti lanqas illi naħsbu fir-rejiet u fl-irġejjen bħala aktar minn arketipi. Il-pirati dejjem kienu parti mill-immaġinazzjoni ta’ tfulitna, kif jurina s-suċċess letterarju u ċinematiku tagħhom. F’450 Valencia Street f’San Francisco, ir-rumanzier Dave Eggers fetaħ ħanut li jbigħ faxex, snanar, xdud ir-ras u xalpi għal pirati aspiranti – talin żbanduti li jisfidaw ir-regoli stabbiliti u ‘jmorru fuq il-baħar’ illi huwa s-simbolu aħħari tal-libertà. Minn din il-perspettiva, l-istorja ta’ Malta hija wkoll waħda ta’ tibdil tal-bnadar; il-kursari kienu, skont is-sitwazzjoni politika jew il-buttin mibrum f’xi rejd, jibdlu l-bandiera – l-iktar waħda importanti kienet tal-Gran Mastru, l-unika waħda li setgħet tiżgiċċa mill-Qorti tal-Vatikan.

Illum, il-gżira tospita ħafna postijiet illi jfakkru l-istorja marittima ta’ ħafna ħtif u ħlis, kummerċ u skjavitù, impriżi glorjużi u inqas glorjużi, stejjer ta’ lsiera Musulmani li jsiru jħobbu l-bniet ta’ sidhom, rakkonti ta’ skappaturi amorużi f’għerien u insegwimenti, salvataġġi mirakolużi ta’ bastimenti u nies, kappelli u knejjes mibnija biex jintradd ħajr għall-ħarb mill-piraterija Torka. B’dan il-qafas f’moħħna nieħdu idea ċara tas-siti li fihom ser jiżvolġi l-biennale, bħal ġewwa palazzi li ntmessu mill-istorja tal-piraterija.

Il-piraterija sservina biex inqisu mill-ġdid it-tifsira tal-Mediterran, baħar illi jibqa’ l-‘fruntiera-mera’ bejn kulturi li mal-ewwel daqqa t’għajn jidhru differenti. Huwa l-lok fejn il-konfront bejn l-Iżlam u l-Ewropa jissokta jkebbes it-tama għall-koeżistenza. Jirrappreżenta l-ostaklu li l-Ewropa teħtieġ issiblu definizzjoni ġdida ħalli ssawwar ġejjieni ta’ skambji reċiproċi u benessri usa’.

It-Tim Kuratorjali

Scientific partners / Kollaborazzjoni Xjentifika:

Other Themes

Can You Sea?: The Mediterranean  as a political body

Decolonising Malta: Polyphony Is Us

The Matri-archive of the Mediterranean