MALTA AS METAPHOR, video installation by  Myriam Thyes, 2008

Malta As Metaphor


The islands of Malta and Gozo impart, particularly in the time outside the tourist season, an intense awareness of the history of Europe, but also of a psychosocial sensibility which even today seems to influence our self-perception as Europeans.

A phenomenon on Malta is the fervent Catholicism which continues to be lavishly nurtured and celebrated. The yearly celebrations of the saints are numerous and the priests and parishes compete to have the biggest and most beautiful ceremonies and churches. Statues of saints are carried through the streets, the houses are decorated with pennants and strings of lights, the festival lasts into the night. The militarism of the music which accompanies the religious processions is a reminder of campaigns and crusades.

Omnipresent is the legacy of the Knights of Malta - an aggressive military order, also known as The Order of St. John of Jerusalem or Knights Hospitaller. From the 16th to the end of the 18th century the Knights of Malta were Christian Europe’s Mediterranean police, who, on behalf of their members (the rulers of France, Germany, Spain, England, Italy) and the Pope, defended Christianity and the coasts of the western Mediterranean against the Ottoman Empire (Turks and Arabs) and Islam. Malta is dominated by the extensive fortifications erected by the Knights.

So I felt myself on Malta to be in a state of paradox - simultaneously on an island and inside a castle. Many people on Malta and Gozo (400.000 inhabitants) feel divided by the love they feel on the one hand for a life in the security of the castle and in the security of strong beliefs, and by a sense of confinement that makes them restless and discontent. They race their cars (more than 300.000!) along the narrow streets of Malta and Gozo at a speed as if on the small island there was no time to be lost. Dense population, dense building areas (living houses and hotels), dense car traffic – this too is typical for Europe.

Malta was for centuries the arena, starting point and target of innumerable wars and raids, both between competing West European rulers and between Christian and Muslim powers. In addition to this, came piracy, kidnapping, the slave trade and galley slaves. Consequently, for the Maltese, as well as for large parts of the population along the Mediterranean coast, abduction, exploitation and violent death were everyday occurrences. The constant presence of death is apparent in the intarsia images decorating the Knights’ tombs in St. John’s Cathedral - the deceased are represented as “living” skeletons.

For many boat refugees from Africa in the Mediterranean, MALTA is the point of arrival today (not only Lampedusa, Sicily, the Balearic Islands, or the Spanish enclaves Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco). How “Fortress Europe” “defends” itself against immigrants from Africa has parallels to the way in which the Christian powers in the Mediterranean defended themselves against the Turks and the Arabs from the 16th to 18th century.

Malta presents historical and current phenomena in Europe in a concentrated form: Malta - a psychosocial magnifying glass.
MALTA AS METAPHOR is a visual and acoustic presentation of Malta as a metaphor for Europe - images for an internalised history and its parallels today.
The panoramic views in the octagon function as 'inner' spaces and can also appear as false/artificial places - virtual memory spaces.