A celebration of life | Charlotte Stafrace

Memory has been a rich impetus for a number of creative projects and exhibitions – it’s a relatable subject that allows entry points into various artistic directions. But nowhere is memory more pertinent than in the case of the elderly and, while chatting to Charlotte Stafrace, we learn about an upcoming exhibition that takes full advantage of this theme

Collective Memories, Collective Lives will showcase ‘memory boxes’ collected by a varied ageing community on the island
Collective Memories, Collective Lives will showcase ‘memory boxes’ collected by a varied ageing community on the island

Who initiated the project, and what were its initial stages like?

The project was initiated by the Critical Institute, who wanted to do a community culture-based project. I became involved, leading the sessions, due to my previous work with the ageing community. What I suggested was a broader aspect of a ‘memory box’ project, which would involve various sectors of the community. We then set about working with the Active Ageing Unit to identify which would be the best group of elderly to work with.

Which communities in particular did you reach out to, and how did you convince them to participate in the project?

Through the Active Ageing Unit, we approached the Dingli Day Care Centre, as well as contacted the Hamrun Day Care Centre, which had been involved in a previous project which had led to the preparation of Memory Boxes. We then contacted members of the Filipino community (Confederation of Filipinos in Malta) and they all came together in an animated session where we discussed the commonalities as well as the differences of different communities.

How would you describe the contents of these ‘memory boxes’?

In the memory boxes, there’s an array of recollections: souvenirs from various jobs held, holidays, shrivelled umbilical cords, a song of ‘Ghana’, old spectacles, a first hairbrush, a first camera, numerous inherited items and a favourite Maltese reading book, amongst many other things… and of course many, many photos.

The boxes were decorated by the elderly themselves and express their individual strengths and ideas. Each memory box is unique and it is truly a joy to see which small objects and photographs hold a special place in the recollections of the elderly people, as well as those of Filipinos living in Malta, who participated in this project.

What would you say are the immediate benefits of the project to the participants themselves, and how will the exhibition communicate this?

The project is multi-layered. Since we were working in a day care centre, we had to try to fulfil very diverse needs. The benefits are plentiful. We included the elderly in physical exercise in order to create focus, energise and get motivated; through improvisation, we created a playground for playfulness and the link to our childhoods; through reminiscence, we remembered the long fabric of life, revisited many old traditions, including the old customs of the farming community of Dingli.

This encouraged dialogue and the memories just flowed from there. One participant said that the project led them to rummage through their entire house for souvenirs to put in the memory box, and that the process brought up some lovely memories; another said that while it took them a long time to put the memory box together, they found it to be a really enjoyable experience throughout.

What are some of the salient concerns regarding the perception of ageing in Malta, and how do you seek to address them in this exhibition?

The exhibition is a celebration of life, of who we are, and a validation that we are also intrinsically connected and linked through our culture and traditions, religion and community, even though we are not all necessarily Maltese. I feel that the elderly could try and take the plunge, taking up offers to try something new more often. It is very rewarding, it is fun, and really never too late to be creative.

What kind of final outcomes do you hope this project will have? 

This kind of exhibition has the potential to grow further and reach across various other ageing institutions in a bid to delve into something different, create dialogue, have a platform to share, reminisce and document while reaffirming and celebrating a life long-lived.

Collective Memories, Collective Lives will be on display at Palazzo Ferreria, Republic Street, Valletta on June 23, 24, 27, 28, 30 and July 1 from 09:00 to 18:00. The exhibition is supported by the Creative Communities Fund, managed by Arts Council Malta