“The Burning Bush” by Patrick Fenech deals with the spectacle of three of the most prolific fireworks displays in Maltese feasts namely, the feast of St. Joseph in Zebbug, that of St. Joseph in Ghaxaq and the feast of Our Lady in Mqabba.

Fenech’s work is a fertile document of all the aspects of celebratory activity spurred by religion on the Maltese islands. The spectacular colour and visual impact of the Catherine wheels produced by the thirty-six fireworks factories active on the small islands, belie the complex social and religious network in most of Malta’s towns and villages that occasionally escalates into pique between supporters of the various saints and precipitates into riot, sometimes even leading to bloodshed during the actual celebrations.

The photographs also tap on local anthropology, where the men who practice this macho craft are regarded by many as a kind of provincial ‘war heros’ and in fact given state funerals every time they become victims of their own fad and blow themselves up during the production process. Both producers and spectators stand within a few meters of these burning installations, chanting away and eulogizing the name of the patron Saint. There is an absolute disregard to safety as the celebrants are wooed by the flames, colours and the array of firework sounds.

Fenech’s biblical connotation in the title ‘Burning Bush’ is an obvious pun on the sacred and profane facets of festa celebration in the Maltese islands. The photographs pose many questions – are the Maltese truly Christian or just a synthetic sham? Do the people need to listen again to the voice from the ‘Burning Bush’?

 — Text by Vince Briffa, Artist and curator, Malta

Patrick Fenech was one of three photographers chosen to represent Malta this year at the nightlong projection of photographs from 27 European countries at the Rencontres Festival in Arles. Vince Briffa served as curator for the selections from Malta.