Malta’s own Time Machine

Posted On October 12, 2021

In the midst of the panoramas and retouched selfies that make up Instagram, the occasional photo of a Maltese time long gone by pops up. This is courtesy of Magna Żmien, an organisation composed of artists, researchers and engineers, which advocates and assists in the digitisation of Maltese images, videos and audio. The objective of this digitisation is to document Malta’s culture and the lives lived in the community.

Magna Żmien was founded in 2017 by Andrew Alamango, who proposed the idea to the  team behind Valletta 2018 when Valletta was one of Europe’s capitals of culture. The initial idea was to set up a digitisation bus which would travel around the island to encourage people to share memories from Malta’s past through their private collections. This project evolved into a time machine performance that went from village to village showcasing archival material relating to each community. After this phase of the project was finished, Magna Żmien, under the care of Andrew Alamango, Andrew Pace and Margerita Pulè, was transformed into a foundation for the ongoing digitisation and preservation of analogue content, with the support of the Arts Council Malta’s ICO Fund.

Image from the Għaqda Mużikali Imperial Collection

The founders of Magna Żmien were inspired to act after finding that there were limited means by which people could digitise and preserve their own private collections, but also that this material was of course inaccessible beyond these families. Magna Żmien does not only intend to preserve audio-visual memories, it also aims to reapply them and give them new life. This is done by engaging with artists who can reinterpret the material.

To date, Magna Żmien has digitised over 10,000 images, sound and video recordings. Among these are 19th century carte de visites, voice recordings from Maltese in Canada, Australia, England and the USA, photo albums and negatives taken by prolific amateur local photographers, and countless films of weddings, christenings, parties and family days out from the late 1930s to the 1990s. All of these personal snapshots contribute to a significant archive that documents daily life in Malta and among Maltese abroad.

Prints from the Paul Caruana Collection

Since its inception in 2018, the project has won the Arts Council Malta’s Il-Premju għall-Arti award for Innovation in recognition of their unique work. Magna Żmien has also put on several exhibitions since its launch. Magna Żmien’s next event will be its first official happening at its new studio at the Valletta Design Cluster, featuring talks on its collections and up close and personal viewings of the material from the archive. Magna Żmien will be hosting its first Magna Żmien Day on the 16th October.

To learn more about Magna Żmien’s work and how you can preserve your family’s heritage, click here.

Cover photo: A print from the Felicity Cuschieri Collection.

Written by Daniela Chatlani

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