I recently had the chance to resume work on a project that I've been working on intermittently over these past 3 years. A couple of years ago I had posted some information about the nature of the project which you can read here but just to recap, I'm currently documenting a local Maltese style of vehicle decoration and sign writing called 'tberfil'. I've been doing this by speaking to most of it's practitioners, visiting people with collections of vintage horse-drawn or automated vehicles and researching texts in libraries.
Over these past 3 years I have managed to interview most of tberfil's practioners and this time round I also had the opportunity of speaking to Malta's last two remaining cart (karrettun tax-xoghol) builders - which though not practitioners of 'tberfil' are still a vital source of information since tberfil would have never existed without carts. My main aims are to document this art form and in time help revitalise it but I am also very interested in it's origins, and this is something that I put a special emphasis on this summer, with promising results!
In short, research so far points to origins (of one style) related to early incarnations of the Imnarja - a seminal Maltese rural feast that goes back at least 500 years. This is exciting especially when one considers how vital the Imnarja feast was in shaping Malta's identity in so many ways (it was the major gathering of rural dwellers, farmers and their culture, was one of the few occasions when rulers and lower classes mingled, it gave us our beloved rabbit dishes etc.). As luck would have it, a chance visit to the Imnarja feast itself four years ago (where spotted two beautifully decorated carts) was what inspired me to research this local brand of folk-art.
I will be continuing my research on the subject throughout the next few months both here in London and in Malta and have plans to conclude it by early next year. I also have some other plans related to this research which I'll hopefully get to write about sometime next year.