Archival Records as Artistic Vehicles of Communication

by Dr Charles J. Farrugia, Malta’s National Archivist

Picture: Alex Attard

Malta is rich in archival heritage.  Records dating as back as 1107 are found in a number of archival repositories on the islands.  The large amounts of records, and often the lack of interest by the public and administrators alike led to neglect in years gone by.  The last two decades witnessed a revival in interest in archival holdings in Malta and the main repositories are working hard to accession records, conserve them in the best way and render them accessible to the public for research.

The Notarial Archives in Valletta is one of these repositorydocumenting an extensive part of Malta’s hidden history. With a collection of over 20,000 manuscripts, spanning a period of six centuries, the Archives provide uniqueinsight into public and private life on the islands of Malta.

I have been asked by Dr Joan Abela on behalf of the Notarial Archives Foundation to share with you an interesting project called ‘Parallel Existences’ that was carried out successfully in collaboration with photographer Alex Attard.  Through this project Attard focused on badly damaged documents and presented a new narrative by creating a dialogue between himself and the damaged documents.  Through this process the document assumes a new purpose.  While its informational content remains hidden and deprived from the researchers’ eyes, the ‘irrecoverable’ record becomes almost a museum piece.  It provides us with a reflection on the impact of irresponsible human action on archival heritage.

The incubator forAttard’screative ideas was in a room at the top floor of the Archives in Valletta, in a room nicknamed the “crying room” by the members of the Foundation who worked hard to give a new lease of life to the Notarial Archives.  Within the walls of this roomone sadly finds the documents damaged during the war and through the passage of time.

The photographer himself share with me these views about the project:

Artistically, the project does not look at Archives the traditional way, but as a space where the synergies of the past encounter those of the present to reveal and inspire different avenues of creativity and perception. It further emphasises that photography is not only a documentary voice and/or an artistic expression, but can also be an active participant alongside history.

Picture: Alex Attard


Beyond Malta’s Shores

Parallel Existences already attracted international attention. The series has been nominated for the 2019 Prix Pictet global award for photography and sustainability.  The shortlist is to be announced in July at Les Rencontres d’Arles.

Photographer Alex Attard would like to explore collaboration with other photographers or archival institutions interested in parallel opportunities  for the concept he developed in other archives.  If you hold records beyond repair, art might be the way through which these records acquire a new purpose.  They might not be able to communicate the information within them but might be excellent items to communicate to the viewer the ugliness of war, neglect, pest attacks or fires on our documentary heritage.  Even amongst the remnants of such tragedies the artist can still create a narrative.

If you have such records I invite you to contact Mr Alex Attard on or through his website More information about the project, and a variety of images from his can be browsed at the same site under ‘Parallel Existences’.


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