A L E X A T T A R D
The advancement of humanity is inexorably linked to history. History is inexorably linked to time and time to memory. The manuscripts held at the Notarial Archives in Valletta on the Mediterranean island of Malta, are unique bearers of a nation’s memory and identity spanning a period of over six centuries dating back to the time of the Order of the Knights of St. John.
On the top floor of these Archives one finds the “Crying Room”, so called because within its walls one sadly finds severely damaged, historically important manuscripts blasted beyond recognition in 1942 during the war.
After the war, the left over fragments were unceremoniously dumped into garbage bags and left in abandon, in horrible conditions ready to be discarded. Sixty years later, a very determined woman, who would eventually go on to form the Notarial Archives Foundation, together with a small group of volunteers, came across these fragments and instead of disposing of them, stored them on shelves in the “Crying Room”. These mangled, distorted and irreparable documents, although ‘saved’, were destined never to be looked at again. They lie in a state of stasis, buried in boxes, out of sight, their reason for being, finished. They were considered gone, of no real use to anyone anymore.
Consequently, where there is such loss, memory is all one is left with. Where there is no memory, all that is left is consumed matter, in this case a historical residue with little or no reference. However, this matter exists and if one observes and contemplates long enough, it communicates.
This photography project came about after rediscovery of these fragments by the photographer. It looks into the original purpose of these damaged documents and presents a narrative based on a dialogue of hope between the damaged documents and the photographer himself. It examines absence, presence and usefulness, and conceives and suggests alternative identities, a parallel existence, for these forgotten manuscripts through an artistic expression where history informs art, and art returns continuity to history by restoring time, memory and purpose and thus a hope for the future.
The project aims to generate interest in these photographic images, representative of these new identities, to evoke an emotion in viewers to question the evidential value of what they are looking at, to inquire as to what they are and why they are in this state. It also hopes to arouse feelings of sympathy and draw attention to archives as under-appreciated guardians of national wealth and to ignite critical discourse and awareness.
The photographed fragments have been selected from the remnants of the estimated 2000 manuscripts that were damaged. All photography was carried out on location at the Archives on a makeshift tabletop studio using only window light.
Following the presentation of these photographs in a major solo exhibition, these forgotten fragments have provoked and generated nationwide attention. A book has been published and a selection of the photographed objects is to eventually be displayed at the new archives premises, currently under restoration, as artefacts in their own right and alongside the photographs. Heritage Malta has also acquired some of the photographs to form part of the National Art Collection.
Hope strives for that which has yet to transcend and sometimes goes beyond or even against expectation. In this instance, history survives to enrich humanity.