One of the thematic sections forming part of is the Matri-archive of the Mediterranean curated by Sofia Baldi Pighi ­– a collection mostly residing within the walls of the Grand Master’s Palace and the Bibliotheca in Valletta, exploring the question of the archive in the context of creativity, memory and the artistic, performative female community of the Mediterranean region.

Among the installations and pieces exhibited within the thematic section, which includes 20 works by both local and international artists, are those of Anna Calleja and Bettina Hutschek, whose works alongside those of the other participating artists aim to counterbalance patriarchal archiving conventions by considering what may transpire when an archive dedicated to women is established.

Mothertongues by Calleja is a collection of artefacts emerging from the artist’s family archive. She uses these to explore the stories of the women in her family to reveal the cross-generational archetypes and influences, objects, paintings and drawings – holding memory and identity – to try and understand how the amalgamation of colonisation and religion have affected what it means for her to be a Maltese woman.

A view of Anna Calleja&rsquo;s <em>Mothertongues</em>. Photo: Julian VassalloA view of Anna Calleja’s Mothertongues. Photo: Julian Vassallo

Calleja uses objects belonging to her two grandmothers, her mother and her own possessions to trace the personal into the political.

“What you do end up keeping is what is most interesting,” says the artist, saying that it was very valuable to find the stories localised within these artefacts.

Among the objects on display are her grandmother Muriel’s passports, which show one lifetime within different eras of Malta’s recent history.

“These passports show a timeline of identities in one lifetime,” says the artist. Muriel was a child of the colonies, born a subject of King George VI, King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth, a subject of Queen Elizabeth II of an independent State of Malta and a citizen of the Republic of Malta.

Other artefacts include some of her grandmother Patricia’s school reports, which emphasise religious doctrine and obedience. “My grandmother would be punished for speaking Maltese,” says the artist, noting one report that said the school “does not teach Maltese to English girls”.

<em>The Out-Side Myth</em> by Camilla Alberti. Photo: Julian VassalloThe Out-Side Myth by Camilla Alberti. Photo: Julian Vassallo

“Nanna Pat was brought up learning that to be a good girl was to be Catholic and to be English. On her report cards from the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Doctrine is the first listed subject and English language second. Maltese is not taught.”

Other fragments belonging to her grandmother include a ‘holy trinity’ of Queen Elizabeth, her mother Rose Borda née Smith and Saint Rita – the patron saint of heartbroken women and marriages – along with several newspaper clippings on Lady Diana during the 1990s.

Calleja noted that, although there were distinct colonial influences on her grandmother and her generation – including an affinity for the British monarchy and the English language – this way of being was not antithetical to being Maltese but rather was just another way of being Maltese, not least because of the concurrent Catholic influence and given the validity of this period in Maltese history and its ramifications in contemporary Malta.

<em>Cairo 1 &ndash; Desert Heat </em>by Isabelle Borg. Photo: Julian VassalloCairo 1 – Desert Heat by Isabelle Borg. Photo: Julian Vassallo

Among the artefacts belonging to the artist’s mother is a slip of paper from an AGM of Moviment Mara Maltija (Maltese Women’s Movement), a Maltese non-governmental organisation that aimed to speak out and bring awareness to injustice and inequality in Malta. The movement was initiated by the late artist Isabelle Borg, some of whose work is also featured in the thematic section.

The organisation played an active part of the conversation in the lead up to the Equal Rights in Marriage Act that became law in 1993.

“My mother felt humiliated about needing her husband’s signature to buy things,” said Calleja.

She recounted how, after her mother got married in 1989, she went one day to buy a washing machine and was told she needed her husband’s signature to purchase it.

<em>The Goddess Project</em> by Nina Gerada. Photo: Julian VassalloThe Goddess Project by Nina Gerada. Photo: Julian Vassallo

Among the items is Calleja’s diptych Invisible String, which features the artist’s parents within their family home. The section shows a tension between the profound love her parents share and the patriarchal removal of her mother’s autonomy upon getting married.

Turning to her own archive, Calleja says her section is “more nebulous”.

“I am showing a body of work that engages with my Maltese identity, how the amalgamation of colonisation and religion have affected what it means for me to be a Maltese woman,” she says.

The artist’s work Ħlas (the Maltese word for payment, birth and freed all at once) is a collage of personal images of her home (the artist’s grandmother’s house, images of Malta from flights to and from the UK and even her own dental X-rays), silkscreen printed on found materials and subsequently sewn together.

<em>Grotta</em> by Wioletta Kulewska. Photo: Julian VassalloGrotta by Wioletta Kulewska. Photo: Julian Vassallo

The whole thematic section of the Matri-archive was created in collaboration with Heritage Malta, the University of Naples L’Orientale, the Centre for Postcolonial Gender Studies and the scholars of the Matri-archive of the Mediterranean, and presents itself as a radical, open archival platform for collecting and discussing prevalent contemporary issues.

Such issues include the ability to manage and transmit knowledge through the creativity of one’s own art, as well as the generational transmission not only of tradition but also of trauma stemming from patriarchal control. The celebration of the matriarchs who have paved the way for experimentation is also a central concern.

Hutschek’s Snake Chronicles – of Myth and Misogyny delves into the evolving perception of the snake symbol by critically looking at depictions of snakes and women spanning from ancient times to contemporary viewpoints.

“It all began with my profound dismay at a rather troubling Maltese proverb that alleges, quite unfavourably, that ‘St Paul took the venom out of serpents’ mouths and put it into the mouth of women’,” began the artist.  

“This prompted a thorough exploration from Pauline teachings to biblical exegesis, delving into patriarchal discourse and the entrenched subjugation of women spanning millennia, upheld by religious, governmental and legal authorities.”

A work by Adama Delphine Fawundu. Photo: Julian VassalloA work by Adama Delphine Fawundu. Photo: Julian Vassallo

Throughout her research, the artist says she uncovered the persistent repercussions of these ideologies, highlighting the alarming normalisation of gender disparities.

“The denial to fundamental rights – such as bodily autonomy and equal pay – emerged as glaring examples,” she said. “Recent years have seen a resurgence of authoritarian and right-wing movements rolling back feminist progress… This led me to acknowledge the pressing need to speak out in opposition.”

Over millennia, the snake has embodied a complex symbol, representing the duality of good and evil, associated with some of the oldest rituals known to humankind. Often regarded as familiars of Great Goddesses, snakes were revered as guardians of the mysteries of birth and regeneration. 

As monotheistic religions emerged, the snake underwent a transformation, shedding its positive connotations to become the primary Christian symbol of evil.

A performance by Anna Anderegg. Photo: Julian VassalloA performance by Anna Anderegg. Photo: Julian Vassallo

Even when depicted beneath the Virgin Mary’s foot, it no longer symbolises knowledge and power, as it did in the context of the goddess of Minoan Crete, but signifies her triumph over evil. Mary, as the image of purity, exemplifies the idealised woman in the new patriarchal paradigm, perpetuating misogynistic interpretations that endure into the 21st century.

An archive dedicated to women

Among the installations at the Grand Master’s Palace are two works by Adama Delphine Fawundu, which trace the artist’s personal ancestry as it connects to the history of Malta and the African Diaspora.

Two seminal paintings by the late Isabelle Borg are also part of the thematic section, namely Woman in the Bull and Cairo 1 – Desert Heat.

The Goddess Project by Nina Gerada comprises a collective of small female terracotta torsos, referencing Maltese Neolithic statuettes, specifically the ‘Tarxien and Mnajdra women’, which are thought to be self-portraits made during pregnancy.

<em>Mi cuerpo dice la verdad/My body speaks the truth</em> by Luz Lizarazo.&nbsp;Photo: Julian VassalloMi cuerpo dice la verdad/My body speaks the truth by Luz Lizarazo. Photo: Julian Vassallo

Mi cuerpo dice la verdad/My body speaks the truth by Luz Lizarazo also concerns the female body, which has been considered as a way to celebrate life, birth, transitions and death, but also treated as a weapon of war, a sexual object and a site for abuse.

Martina Georgina and Romeo Roxman Gatt’s installation ’ostra is a metaphor for the ritualistic practices we often partake of in our daily productive lifestyle.

By a Lady by Sandra Zaffarese at the Bibliotheca is a meditation on the role that exceptional women have played throughout history and yet are left nameless or little discussed.

Martina Georgina and Romeo Roxman Gatt&rsquo;s installation <em>&rsquo;ostra.</em>&nbsp;Photo: Julian VassalloMartina Georgina and Romeo Roxman Gatt’s installation ’ostra. Photo: Julian Vassallo

Konstantina Krikzoni’s The Concert of Hyacinths I, II revolve around the expressive potential of the female body, highlighting its capacity for action and its enigmatic repository of secrets, arcane knowledge and experiences.

With Unborn Celebration, Sara Leghissa rearranges the poem I Want an Abortion Every Day by Simon(e) van Saarloos into the form of a public manifesto.

Deposizione (Deposition) by Teresa Antignani is intended as a tribute to the women and mothers of the Mediterranean, to their pain and strength.

Granny’s Giant Teeth (Migrating series) by Madeleine Fenwick, located at the Bibliotheca, reminisces about the archive of information about our DNA in our teeth.

Ġenna tal-Art (Utopia) by Rebecca Bonaci is a painting that focuses on the importance of greeting outsiders while maintaining cultural integrity.

<em>Ġenna tal-Art (Utopia)</em> by Rebecca Bonaci. Photo: Julian VassalloĠenna tal-Art (Utopia) by Rebecca Bonaci. Photo: Julian Vassallo

Amy Bravo’s Curio (For St Catherine) is a sculpture of a veiled woman using a machete to slice off a braid of her own hair – evoking St Catherine of Siena who once cut off her very long hair to thwart her parent’s attempts to find her a husband. 

Silver Boom by Anna Anderegg delves into the experiences and expectations of senior women, questioning their place in today’s society.

The Briar Rose (rosa x centifolia) by Jean-Marie Appriou envisages the fantastical worlds inhabited by human, animal and vegetal figures.

Grotta by Wioletta Kulewska Akyel features large-scale canvas tent paintings, where the exteriors and interiors envelope and surround the viewer to evoke an experience of painting that is both seen and felt. 

Cecilia Vicu&ntilde;a&rsquo;s <em>Beach Ritual. </em>Photo: Julian VassalloCecilia Vicuña’s Beach Ritual. Photo: Julian Vassallo

The Out-Side Myth. Altarolo per culti meno umani by Camilla Alberti is a project inspired by the historical and cultural heritage of Malta, where the presence and importance of religious and military power over the centuries has shaped the island’s appearance today. 

Cecilia Vicuña’s Beach Ritual was filmed on the coastline near Athens, Greece, on April 10, 2017. The performance was an integral part of her contribution to documenta 14 – a seaside sacrifice involving the same Greek wool that was used in the production of her Quipu Womb (The Story of the Red Thread, Athens) at EMST, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens.

Lastly, Sot Glas by Ana Shametaj and Giuditta Vendrame is a sound installation realised in the context of Spaziale: everyone belongs to everyone else, as part of the Italian Pavilion at the 18th Venice Architecture Biennale. The work addresses and interrogates the notion of a political border through the lens of music, considering it as both a trespass and a landscape.

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