“A face is a flower in the solitude of things. A face listens to years, seasons, countless lives…”
– Raúl Zurita
WIĊĊNA (translated from Maltese: OUR FACE) is a book of 228 photographic portraits of individuals from different backgrounds, generations and ethnicities, who currently reside in Malta, accompanied by a short caption taken from the individual’s answer to the often complicated question “Where are you from?”
The book feature aesthetical, anthropological and literary essays on aspects of physiognomy, identity and photography, each written in a different language that has influenced Malta throughout its history: Arabic (Walid Nabhan), English (Alexandra Pace), French (Philippe Parizot), Italian (Virginia Monteforte), Maltese (Leanne Ellul), and Spanish (Antoine Cassar).
Portraits reproduced in a book are silver gelatin lith prints photographed and hand-printed by Zvezdan Reljic.
An island is not an island unless in relation to one or more continents. Whether a stepping stone, a refuge or a permanent home, an island exists precisely because people come and go, bring and take, cast anchor and embark.
According to the physiognomical beliefs of Sir Thomas Browne in his treatise Christian Morales (c. 1675), “there are … Provincial Faces, National Lips and Noses…” There may be some truth in these words, insofar as certain physical traits repeat themselves across a more or less defined region. Then again, if, like snowflakes, no two faces are identical, how can a face be ‘from’ anywhere specific? I’ve often taken a guess at one’s nationality based on the contours of their face, and been wildly mistaken, even after years of experience of portrait photography. At the same time, many of the people I have photographed happen to be of mixed heritage, unable to pinpoint a single country as their home or identity; their very own face unwittingly subverts – or better still, transcends – the cold categories of nationality as inherited through political narrative.
I would like Wiċċna / Our Face to be an extended snapshot of the nuanced – neither limited nor diluted – diversity of contemporary Maltese society. There are a number of questions I would like the book to attempt to answer, through the presentation and juxtaposition of portraits and captions, and through essays written in response to them. How wide is the palette of facial features that define the look of a people, insofar as such a definition is possible? How many faces can people contain? How many peoples make up a face?
The outcome will hopefully be a photographic legacy that looks back at the society it has portrayed and looks also into the eyes of future readers.
This project is supported by #artscouncilmalta – Malta Arts fund