St Agatha's Museum, Rabat, Malta. A personal memoire

Museums have been part of my life since my early childhood spent in Bexhill-on-sea, UK and Malta, and they had a powerful impact on my sensory imagination, and later my creative development as an artist. 

Local Museums, when I was a child, were a wonderful eclectic mixture of objects donated by enthusiasts, travellers, and bequests from lifetime collectors. They housed displays constructed by volunteers and museum staff, unlike the often ruthlessly over curated expensive and souless corporate designer make overs we are familiar with now.

I have worked as an artist in many museums creating work that references the collections and interpreting the artefacts to create tableaux that reveal hidden stories and meaning. My experience is that of curators being tightly restricted by conventions of conservation, display conventions and of course ethics. Cross referencing different collections - Natural History, Fashion, Human History, for example is not usually possible for them. However an artist can, with curator support, can break these boundaries as I have been lucky enough to do in Museum Residencies that I have done in the past.

St. Agatha's Museum is one that I visited as a child and continue to visit on every trip back to Malta. I am always relieved that it hasn't been 'tidied up' and 'made over' because the humanity of the personal touch is evident in the way artefacts are displayed and this allows the visitor to engage with the objects without the intervention of impenetrable industrial display cases and academic curation.

St. Agatha's Museum has collections of fossils, prehistoric remains, minerals, pottery and of particular interest to me 'in memoriam' homemade vitrines and displays marking the death of a family member to place a 'tag' as it were on their soul, and as votives for cures and forgiveness. Many of the cases are tender tributes and act as touchstones or talismanic links to the spirit or 'soul' of people that have died in the physical realm but leave their traces through their descendents and actions. They are very sentient and powerful ways of remembrance and need no explanation or academic interpretation.

There is a human scale to this museum that makes it memorable and powerful as a way of interpreting the extraordinary span of human activity that has been enacted over thousands of years of occupation, by which ever empire was ascendent at a particular time in history, on this relatively tiny lump of rock in the Mediterranean. Below is a description from the Museum's website that gives you a walk through the various rooms. I have tried to give you a personal response to the magic of the place that has inspired me.

My account is more of a memoir than an accurate tourist or would be visitor description which is available online, and reads thus -

'The museum is part of a complex of catacombs containing different types of tombs, agape tables and frescoes, the crypt with its important medieval frescoes, and the Church dating from 1504, and enlarged in 1670, home to a marble statue which was placed on the walls of the city of Mdina the ancient capital of Malta, on July 20th 1551, during one of frequent attacks by the Arab corsairs on the island.

When one enters the museum, one can have a look at prehistoric remains (bones of hipoppotamuses, sharks' teeth and other fossils). Along the stairs leading to the next floor of the museum, the visitor can admire a large collection of minerals and gems from around the world, which were donated to Fr. Victor Camilleri. (M.S.S.P.) for the museum.

In the main hall, there are various artefacts from Egypt, pottery and glass remains which were found in St. Agatha's catacombs. But, maybe the most important item in this area is the statue of Aphrodite. Exhibited in the first room on the left hand-side, are various religious paintings, coins, medals and statuettes. Above all, there is the original alabaster statue of St. Agatha.'

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Sebastian Mckerracher

Sebastian McKerracher is a web designer and woodworker. When he isn't sitting behind a computer screen or building a cutting board he sometimes finds time to visit modern art galleries or natural history museums.