Sam Farrugia reviews Charlie Cauchi’s exhibition of Malta’s migration history.
Latitude 36 tells the story of the Maltese migrants of the 1950s and 1960s. The art exhibition gives us a view of the impression Maltese people left on the communities of London, Australia and Tunisia when they went there, as well as the effect of migration on Maltese psychology.
30 frames on a wall were selected from three years’ worth of photos, and feature the names of houses across Malta and Gozo. There is a common theme to these names, which feature Leeds, Maple Leaf and Kent amongst others. Possibly, these Maltese migrants came back to Malta and wanted to keep a shard of their past as part of their home.
The exhibition also shows some of the shadier sides of Maltese migrants, namely the London Soho District, which was partly controlled by Maltese gangs. A neon ‘Ten-minute-rule’ sign alludes to ten minutes a person was allowed with a prostitute in the Soho area.
A short film of a Tunisian-Maltese laundry factory highlights the integration of culture between the two countries. It showcases Rue Maltese, an industrial town in Ezzahra where a Catholic Church built by the immigrant Maltese of the 19th century still stands. The exhibition makes a poignant statement about migration, which is echoed in the current Maltese context of immigrants coming to Malta to seek a better life.
The exhibition does a good job at reminding the Maltese that we were once migrants too, and we were sometimes treated with coldness or even hostility. Our roots and past, from wooden houses, to black and white television footage, are shown in each exhibition room.
The Island Fox, a small feature created by lip-sync artist Foxy and Husk, creates a reflection of British and Maltese communities, by working with a Maltese diaspora in the UK and a British diaspora in Malta. The last line ‘We don’t belong anywhere’ highlights this reflection – and is a fitting summary of much of this thought-provoking and engaging exhibition.
Latitude 36: A Transmedia Exhibition is on display at Biltz, Valletta, until 13 July as part of the Capital of Culture programme.