feasts and traditions
Ħaġar Karmel by Victor Agius
St Chrisopher Street, Valletta
installation, cement and terracotta sculptures and scaffolding
As a ceramicist who has created a large body of work together with the communities of his hometown in Xagħra (Gozo), Victor initially looked to investigate the rituals associated with the Biċċerija area, working together with organisations who were fervently involved as collaborators on local religious and carnival festivities. Lengthy discussions about the various histories of the place revealed Victor’s interest in collaborating with local organisations that helped to create decorations for the local feast at Tal-Karmnu Basilica. The fountain and niche of the Biċċerija became the ideal location for his work to unfold.
Ħaġar Karmel, as a site, context and community-specific intervention, incites a multitude of meanings and associations, each of which derive from the multifarious histories associated with place. Taking an old photo as a starting point, which showed the unrecognisable niche decorated during the feast in the late 19th century, Victor extrapolated symbols associated with the feast of Madonna tal-Karmnu and St Elijah, a prophet from the Old Testament of the Bible, also related to Mount Carmel. Victor re-interpreted the story of the sacrifice Prophet Elijah, which unfolds within the narrative of the Old Testament, by creating a playful composition of ravens, bull and horses driving a chariot of fire. He used brown textile to represent Elijah’s mantle.
Beyond introducing the community’s stories, it became evident that the work’s composition also had to include the two serpents within the niche, which represented the statue that adorned the fountain, and which were still strong in the memory of people. As a result, the overlaps between the story of Prophet Elijah and the recent history of the sculptural composition’s location emerged in multiple and diverse ways.
Bull. Biċċerija. Chariots of fire. Horse-led carts to provide a service to the communities.
Stables located in St Christopher’s Street. Ravens and bread. Bakeries.
For four months, with the help of three assistants, Victor developed life-size clay sculptures, each of which would help to build his composition as a whole. Moulds were then extracted from each of these to create the final cement pieces.
The fountain was cemented in the 1950s. It is a symbol of development. Scaffolding has become inherent to the ever-changing fabric of Valletta.
Throughout the making process, we developed an ongoing collaboration with Għaqda Festa Madonna tal-Karmnu. The organisation became involved in gilding some of the terracotta sculptures that work to create contrast with the rest of the composition. The work is heavy and pedantic in nature; symbolic of the powerful relationship that people and communities have built with this niche at the heart of the Biċċerija area.
'Ħaġar Karmel' has been partly distributed among local Gozitan farms and the local feast club.