In Song of a Bird, I portray the Maltese microcosm of nature enthusiasts who,, can sing and call like the birds who fly over the island.
Navigating through a web of childhood recollections, video documents of my father, interviews, recordings and drawings, he unravels a spirit rooted deep in the Maltese cultural and natural landscape.
They are the bird-trappers.
In October 2017, I started investigating an ever-shrinking community of Maltese men who are able to imitate the calls and songs of visiting birds on the island of Malta. This community, ‘in-nassaba’, are the bird-trappers.
My father, Michael (60) has been trapping since his teenage years. My grandfather and great-grandfather were likewise trappers. I am the first man in my family not to practice this a long-established custom I neither trap birds, nor can I sing like them.
What is the beauty in trapping? Why does my father, and the 2000 other bird-trappers of the island, cling onto a hobby from their teenage years?
In spring and autumn, during the birds’ migratory seasons, Maltese trappers ache in their longing to sit in nature at dawn waiting for the songbirds. ‘Namra’ is a Maltese word and as Mark Anthony Falzon describes it “a lifelong passion”…“ a folly that appears all but incomprehensible to the casual observer” … “It is less about machismo than about a legacy of people-wildlife interactions within a very specific set of historical-ecological conditions”. Namra is believed to be inherited.
In June 2018, the European Court banned the trapping of song-birds with clap-nets on the island. This ban is monitored by organisations for the protection of birds and is rigorously enforced by special local police squads. Since then, the live-capturing of the chaffinch, linnet, goldfinch, greenfinch, hawfinch, serin and siskin is banned.
But it is not forbidden to sing the trappers’ song.
It is a space for the preservation of a local culture in a precarious state.
75 minutes - Maltese with English Subtitles
In S.O.A.B Nassaba, I follow my father, a bird-trapper, out onto fields as he used to as a child. This time, with a camera.
In a one hour performance I document and unravel the world, the sentiments and the art of my father and his peers, who can whistle and call like singing birds.
“ I truly hope that this project will be continued beyond the parameters of this series of performances, and extend itself into the future. It would be a shame to see the admirable work done on this project fade into the nothingness of the collective lost memory. “ read the full review at tpespis.com
The installation consists three spaces parts. The first space has seven videos of the calls and songs of the seven wild finches, performed by my father, Michael Grima, and Louis Camilleri. The second space has two videos. One one side is a found footage of Louis Camilleri being captured by CABS on video trapping illegally in 2019 prior being arrested by the police and opposite a fragment from an interview we did together in 2018. The third space are video documentation of an encounter of the three trappers from 2018.
There is a folder in the middle of the room which gives context made of fragments from the online arhicve birdsmalta.org