Carnival has arrived! It’s a good time to wear fancy clothes, to put on your cat ears and party like it is 1999. Or should we say 1989? (apologies to both Prince and Taylor Swift).
We have a week-end out of office, so we decided to grab our cameras and hit the streets of Malta to take some portraits. We plan to have a nice selection of images of people in costumes by Sunday afternoon, and we will surely share them with you. To make things even more exciting, we have decided to dig deep into our archives and we have found some incredible photos from previous year (9-10 February 2013). How about a double – Carnival photo coverage? Sounds good? You bet!
Malta is one of world’s smallest states (316 km2 or 122 sq miles) divided between three islands and one of the most populated places on the globe (with 500 000 residents and 3 millions of tourists throughout the year, density reaches 1,306.8/km2 or 3,413.9/sq m – that’s more than Hong Kong).
This tiny island is extremely colourful and occasionally loud. So, nothing captures the spirit of the island like the week before Ash Wednesday.
Il-Karnival ta`Malta (as it is called in native tongue) holds a special position among all festas and public holidays on the island. It is celebrated annually since 1535 (that’s two-hundred years longer than Rio!) and is regarded as a major tourist attraction. The daily celebrations take place in the capital – Valletta, the nightly celebrations move to Nadur in the island of Gozo. Each year sees a street parade, band marches and floats competition. It is also a fantastic opportunity for any photographer – hand made costumes of the revellers take months to prepare and the results are astonishing. Maltese are also protective of children, taking photos of youngsters is frowned upon; the Carnival is probably the only time when a photographer can snap away photos of anybody without being yelled at.
Through-out its history, the carnival was a source of entertainment and controversy. The Knights of Malta, who brought the tradition to the island, had to reprimand residents numerous times over costumes or lavish celebrations. In 1569 a ban was issued by Grand Master Giovanni Paolo Lascaris to keep women away from the Knights` celebrations. It also forbade masks – those who would resist faced penalty of being publicly whipped. Maltese public answered in a typical Mediterranean fashion – regular riots erupted, a Jesuit church was ransacked and Grand Master Lascaris had to evacuate himself from St James Cavalier building in Valletta. It is worth noting that the next time Maltese decided to take to the streets was in 1919 due to prices of bread (incident is known as “Sette Giugno” or “Seventh of June”, and is celebrated as a milestone towards the independence of the Island).
The story of Grand Master Lascaris constitutes our favourite anecdote – today St. James Cavalier hosts an art centre, cinema and a popular restaurant. The photos in this post have been taken on 9-10 February, 2013, and we had our lunches at St James. We were wondering what Grand Master Lascaris would say. Let’s hope that our choice of local ricotta pie would be approved…
Carnival can stir up controversy even in this day and age. In 2009 revellers were arrested in Nadur for dressing up as Jesus and nuns. One person was handed a month – long prison sentence, the rest were acquitted. It was due to ancient blasphemy and censorship laws that Malta is now getting rid of. In 2010, both Rita and I took part in the art exhibition called “The Art of Silence” against the censorship and Rita commented against the carnival arrests with one of her paintings. You can see the coverage in the link below:
Speaking of Rita being artistic and all about carnival cheer, in 2011 she also held a small exposition of her carnival masks at the Soap Café shop in Sliema. It was a very cool experience; you can recall it by visiting the post here:
But back to the streets and the people in lovely costumes. The weather in February can be harsh and windy. In 2013, we had to dress ourselves up like we were taking part in Trans-Siberian expedition and tried to keep ourselves warm and hydrated at all times. Yet still became violently sick in the end. But we are very proud of the end effect. We wanted to portray not just stunning costumes or cute kids. We hoped to show the diversity of people you can meet on Maltese streets, all dressed up and celebrating in their own ways by using photography as the medium.
Think of it as one roll of film used well…
If you want a longer read about Maltese Carnival, you may net-surf to those destinations:
Malta Tourism Authority: http://www.visitmalta.com/en/carnival
Detailed blog about the Carnival: http://malta.jimdo.com/malta-carnival/
We will be back quite soon with photos from this year’s festival and our observations. But we want to leave you with a most wonderful and suitable song for the moment. This is how we feel running around with cameras.
Ladies and Gentlemen, one and only Natalie Merchant and her “Carnival”.