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Blog : Malta

Il-Kamra Ta’ Barra | Parking Space Events in Sliema

Il-Kamra Ta’ Barra | Parking Space Events in Sliema

A living room made for on-street interaction.

Last Thursday, in collaboration with Margerita Pule, Parking Space Events moved across the water from Valletta to Sliema to create a ‘Kamra ta’ Barra’ (literally, an outdoor room). Traditionally the tidy and richly-decorated room Maltese households keep for the purpose of welcoming guests, we built one such ‘kamra ta’ barra’ within a parking space just outside a large building site in Howard Street Sliema.

For the few hours during our intervention, the rectangular lines on the ground marked the confines of our living room, which we invited attendees and passers-by to ‘enter’ and interact inside, while of course still being very much out on the street. We asked questions and invited discussions about what makes a good neighbourhood and about their thoughts about what is happening in the streets of Sliema at the moment.

“They dug so deep that they found sea water and cannot find a way to stop is seeping in. These apartments (pointing to the building site behind our living room) should have been habitable by last November and there are no signs of progress.”

Sliema residents spoke about the tensions of navigating their daily life around the heavy construction that is happening all over the town. “We’ve been dealing with construction for 25 years now” one resident commented. “My sister has been living on top of a building site for 10 years” another added. People spoke about the time it takes to navigate the streets to actually get out of Sliema. An elderly resident talked about wondering whether she could make it on foot from her house to Tigne Point given the immense clouds of construction dust that completely filled the air at Town Square, a €100 million luxury apartment tower project that the residents and NGOs have been campaigning against. The same resident asked philosophically “should we build upwards or outwards?”

Parking Space Events | Il-Kamra Ta Barra

“People complain about construction but enjoy the money that comes from it.”

“Ghada filghodu jigu l-krejnijiet u l-concrete mixers” (Tomorrow morning the cranes and the concrete mixers will take over), “I was born here but I am fed up of Sliema”. “It’s a lost cause”, “Tas-Sliema qerduha” (They have ruined Sliema), “Qed nitilfu kollox hawn” (We’re losing everything here). “We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that this is a nice environment”, “ the national bird of Malta is the crane”.

“It is the sea that saves us from going crazy.”

So what makes a good neighbourhood, we asked? “Not this crane” (referring to the big tower crane just adjacent to our living room and swaying ominously above us). “Walkways”, “Paths”, “Plants”, “Green areas”, “Safety”, “It’s not ok to put this wall here” (referring to the concrete brick wall in front of the massive building site and tower crane our living room is next to).

Parking Space Events | Il-Kamra Ta Barra

“The neighbours” was a popular answer. “We used to sit out on the street”. “In a town you want people to be on the street not off it. That’s the whole point of a town.” “I don’t know the neighbours and I’ve been living here for four years. There aren’t opportunities for people to meet. Most people who live here are in their 60s and 70s and they don’t feel safe being out on the streets. It’s an unbalanced neighbourhood because the young people have moved out of Sliema.” “We used to live in Sliema but our landlord sold the house” a young couple explained. “In the morning when I go to work I only see foreigners who have come here for work on the street”. “People have a different relationship to space when they are here temporarily. They might not care so much about the changes.”

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Parking Space Events | Il-Kamra Ta Barra

As one of the living room hosts, I really enjoyed creating a space where people could chat and discuss their neighbourhood on the street. At one point I sat down with a woman who lives nearby and had an hour-long conversation that spanned construction, living in different places, religion and beliefs and the idea of thinking about future generations when taking action today. It was clear that we were extremely different in our individual perspectives, our beliefs, our ways of living. Yet on the red sofa in the middle of Howard Street we both enjoyed learning about each other’s different ways of looking at the world and somehow expanded our horizons.

Safe, welcoming spaces for people to meet on the street can be very valuable to a community. They provide the possibility for inter-generational communication and interaction between people from different backgrounds who would not usually hang out together. If designed well they can serve as peaceful, shady oases where people can be encouraged to discuss what is happening in their neighbourhoods and find ways of improving them together. Long working hours, car-dominated streetscapes, street-area take-overs by businesses and commercial concerns, lack of pedestrian and bicycle facilities and lack of shading amongst others all tend do encourage humans to be less social when outdoors. It’s time to take this into account in our urban planning to consciously design neighbourhoods that encourage and give space for people to live better.

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More about Il-Kamra ta’ Barra:

Times of Malta

Kultura News

Project Disintegration

Malta’s Muses – Goddess, Madonna, Witch | Fragmenta

Malta’s Muses – Goddess, Madonna, Witch | Fragmenta

Kay Turner brings together the goddesses from Maltese religious and folk tradition at Tarxien Temples

It was such a joy to be around such absolutely kick-ass females at this edition of Fragmenta. Donning different Madonna t-shirts from various tours and the kind of self-assured, no-nonsense presence that tends to come with being on this planet for a while, Kay Turner (New York, USA), Paula Schorr and Karen Siegel (Highland Park, New Jersey, USA) assisted by Mary Sanger (Austin, Texas USA) provided the exact image of what I want to be when I grow up.

Kay spoke about her work, about goddesses and altars, about the figure of the witch. More females are identifying with the characteristics and values of the witch: standing up for social justice, putting her foot down, saying no, speaking out, not being taken for a ride. Of course, these are all problematic traits for those who wish to get away with murder and the witch has been demonized and downtrodden over time. The more acceptable angelic, silent, fertile goddess being favoured and lauded by the establishment.

Whooshing around on her absolutely massive and beautiful broom (the perfect vehicle for getting out of a sticky situation), Kay created the possibility for an update of the witch persona. She’s loud, she’s wickedly funny, she smashes patriarchy’s knickknacks with a hammer as she sings in celebration.

Kay spurning fertility and smashing tchotchkes.

 

The witch is queer. With Kay reading Grimm’s Frau Trude tale about the little girl and the witch who turned her into a block of wood, Paula and Karen continue with their amazing performance, singing about the old witch and the young gay girl who crosses the threshold thirsty to learn about the arts of seduction.

 

Paula and Karen’s performance ‘Playing with Fire’ from a few years back at NYU.

 

Enlivened by the singing and smashing we stand up and gather for the procession through the temples. With Kay at the helm we make a run on our brooms laughing gleefully as we whoosh forward. We eventually meet the goddesses on our journey.

 

The Maltese Woman | Fragmenta | Kay Turner

The Maltese Woman

Dressed in black with a traditional Ghonnella and a string of pearls, the Maltese woman is seen waving in a friendly manner. She waves, she moves, she waves some more, silent, smiling, beautiful. Is this what we recognize as the ideal?

 

Sansuna the giantess | Fragmenta | Kay Turner

Sansuna the Giantess

Sansuna is the builder of Ggantija. She lives on broad beans and honey as she kicks massive stones up the hill, her hands occupied with the baby she had with a human. At Tarxien she was offering passers-by broad beans to place on the main altar.

 

The Witch with the crooked nose

Sporting a very respectable long and pointy noise, the witch cackles as we walk past. Is she righteous, is she evil, is she beautiful, is she ugly? Who is she for us?

 

The Night Hag

Traditionally known to sit on humans at night and cause sleep paralysis. Sleeping with a knife under the pillow is said to keep her away. Here the Night Hag is seen snapping knives in two and offering them to passers by. What if we invite her to visit? What gifts does she bring?

 

Protection Mudras at the Tarxien Temple entrance

At the entrance to the inner temple, Paula and Karen stand at the monumental stones. We watch them re-enact goddess protection mudras and copy their gestures before walking in, greeted by more goddesses.

 

The Virgin

Dressed in white, veiled in blue and carrying a mini-me glow-in-the-dark Madonna, the virgin has stars in her hands that she passes on to people as they walk by. The stars are made out of religious pages turned into confetti for the Immaculate Conception feast celebrated a day previously.

 

The Witch and the Goddess

Flanking a narrow passageway inside the temple, this surprisingly compatible pair whispered simultaneous suggestions into ears. “The witch in me recognizes the witch in you” from one side and “The goddess in me recognizes the goddess in you” from the other. Who do we identify with?

 

Back out of the temple we walk up to the altar built for the occasion, decorated with scarves, goddesses, offerings, flowers and flickering lights. We add the offerings we collected during the procession – broad beans, flowers and stars.

Kay, Paula and Karen gather for one last invocation, putting the power of three to the service of a fourth in trouble. Kay brings out a photo of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the journalist whose murder is still unsolved. Daphne is her fourth she explains as she invites us to find our own ‘her’. We chant together, calling on our collective power to the service of our cause.

On activism, belonging and shades of grey

On activism, belonging and shades of grey

Some coping strategies for a very confused Malta

Never have I felt a bigger need to ‘do something’, than in these last few weeks since the horrible assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. I’ve been struggling quite heavily with the state of the country for the last few months, frustrated particularly with our national fear of open criticism and real public debate about the things holding us backward.

I work within the arts sector, one that is traditionally rebellious, free thinking, a leader in successfully pushing for change. Yet I’m frustrated with the close ties art has to the public sector where the vast majority of artists in Malta somehow depend on the government for their daily bread. Any activism within the arts comes at great personal courage and the knowledge that you will be seen and treated like a traitor by the institution you work for and all its networks. We expect people to be chastised for questioning, for speaking out, for challenging the status quo, and they often are. Caring for jobs became the holy grail of artists grateful for being able to live off their craft, never mind selling their soul in return.

I expect that the situation is similar in other sectors given that this country is so tiny that everyone knows everyone and we tend to react to opinions voiced in public with attacks on the person voicing them rather than on the arguments put forward.

The pattern often goes like this: person writes article / makes public comment.

If person is foreign we tell them to go back to their country since if they chose to come to Malta, they must now love all its flaws and not in any circumstances talk about them or try to change them.

If person is local, we accuse them of being pl or pn supporters, because of course affiliation with a party immediately invalidates the person’s capacity to think freely. They are now simply puppets furthering the party agenda, unable to make their own personal judgement on any issue. And don’t get me wrong, many are just that.

As humans, we want to belong. We can sense the strength of the group and the protection being part of a crowd affords. We want to be part of something bigger than us.

Here in Malta we cling to our clans with fervour. Families, band clubs, festas, the church, political parties. We’re used to public shows of unity and standing up for those within the clan without question. Upset one of ours and our inner mama bear pounces. Never mind what we think about the argument.

The thing is though, many of us are feeling the cracks in this process and struggling with them. We’re looking around for our clan, for our people, our leaders, our heroes and there are none. We long for a virtuous strong leader to get us out of this mess, we long for impartial orators who can help us make sense of the mud we’re living in, yet we reject everyone who dares enter the field. And many times for seemingly good reason. Dig for 5 minutes and find a scandal. A political affiliation, a link with ‘the enemy’, a history of lack of honesty, a public flop, flaws big and apparent that take centre stage and invalidate every argument.

Suddenly there are no heroes to look up to. No person we can hand over our thinking capacities to and get on with our crazy busy lives. Everyone is a shade of grey. Some darker than others but none without a tint of some kind.

We feel we’re doomed.
How can we cope?

To be honest my most automatic reaction is to shut it all out. I can’t cope with the contradictions, I feel like I can’t possibly trust anyone and I know that everything I say or do is being watched by a mob ready to point out my flaws and motivations. And of course everything gets recorded in the little black book that will at some point come out to haunt me. The easiest thing to do is to sit at home and avoid the news. It’s all fake anyway and we’re all doomed. Or destined for glory, depending on your viewpoint.

Yet there’s a bubbling inside me that I cannot shut out. A frustration, an itch I can’t reach. A mountain of naivety that refuses to budge. A sense of possibility that keeps singing resolutely. And every day I see signs of other people who hear the same song. I see people following their values despite the difficulty, I see people being brave and truthful even when attacked, I see that every shade of grey is made up of white and black in varying degrees and I cannot ignore the good things that are inside the mayhem. Which of course brings me to a state to confusion over which direction I’m supposed to be throwing rotten tomatoes at.

The following are some strategies that seem to help the situation:

Sticking with discomfort.
When frustration bubbles, breathing and giving yourself time to feel out your own biases to the situation rather than running off. Some things are so entrenched they need serious effort to overcome. Like our national resistance to activism. Our inability to protest. Our need to discredit the speaker before the argument. What if we choose to act differently? What would that feel like?

Building open, inclusive communities.
We’re at a place where our sense of belonging feels homeless. We see serious cracks in practically every organisation. We see and feel more struggle in doing the things that we took fore granted a few years ago. Like drive to work. Or be able to afford a house whether rented or bought. Or be able to make a living out of things that don’t make us feel dead inside. This is a time to stick together. This is a time to collaborate, this is a time to have conversations over how we want to live and work on making that happen. This is a time to come outside of our work-home comfort zone to do the things that feel important to us. To examine what strategies help us live better, help us be more ourselves, help us engage with those around us to be able to see what resources we have available and make better use of them between us. How we can better support each other. How we can give our sense of belonging a meaningful home. This is a time to get off our phones and hang out in the streets more. This is a time to fully support good initiatives, even if we feel we’re different from the people who started them. By joining and participating we can create something better.

Embracing not knowing.
Let’s face it, we’re in crisis. Our water resources are dwindling as is our ability to produce local food. Our economy is based on dubious practices, many of which rape the little resources we have available at the fastest pace possible with zero thought about long term consequences. We’re losing our ability to provide affordable housing for ourselves. Our institutions are dinosaurs that have no idea how to cope with the fast changing pace of things. Our politics are tribal and all over the place. Our law enforcement is a joke. Let’s all accept that things are not pretty at the moment and that we mostly don’t have solutions. Or at least not the fast simple ones we all crave. They are just not there. The more we get comfortable with not knowing, the more we can openly speak about things as they are rather than feel the need to sugar coat them because we’re afraid of admitting we don’t have a solid plan. Guess what? No one does. The whole world is in the same boat and we’re all trying to swim through murky waters. Mostly obstinately pretending we can see the way or worse still not realising that our navigation tools are just mirrors looking backwards that are absolutely no use now. Let’s all accept that we have no idea where we’re going even if we can feel that things can and should be different, better.

Encouraging courage.
Rather than throw things at whoever dares speak out, let’s listen and engage truthfully. Let’s give each other our ears. Let’s lend each other the platforms we’ve built to make ourselves heard. Let’s build a culture that encourages people to speak out truthfully. Let’s create space for that in every place we have an influence on whether it’s at home, school, work, social media, public life. We must have patience. People need time and encouragement to find their voice, sometimes we will be met with silence, sometimes with confused voices. Let’s leave space for that anyway and have conversations that help focus, question, improve our arguments. Let’s collaborate publicly together. Let’s train ourselves in the art of accepting criticism publicly, of making criticism publicly, of separating the idea from the person and accepting that ideas change, transform, expand, contract and migrate to unexpected lands. Let’s challenge each other to bring out our best.

Taking time out.
These are testing times and we need our wits on. The solutions we need are multifaceted, systems oriented, needing overviews and big picture approaches. We need to find ways to drop the barriers to collaboration and connection. The more we exhaust ourselves in the hamster wheel, the less we can work together to build a new solar powered structure that runs without the need for us to spend all our time struggling with it. Walk, read, stare, do nothing. Be resolute in your decision to make space for yourself. Identify the practices that slow time down for you and be ruthless in making sure you make time for them. Play, dance, sing, paint, sleep by the sea in the sun, do the things that make you feel alive, for this is the most important thing you came here for. The next piece of the puzzle will emerge when you let it.