‘Frendo’s book offers new insight into Malta during the 1930s’

Kathrina Farrugia-Kriel picks Henry Frendo’s Europe and Empire as her favourite book by another Maltese author.

Kathrina Farrugia-Kriel is a Maltese author and dance scholar who co-edited The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Ballet, and wrote the first history of ballet in Malta, Princess Poutiatine and the Art of Ballet in Malta, published by Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti in 2020. Here she explains why Henry Frendo’s Europe and Empire: Culture Politics and Identity in Malta and the Mediterranean is her favourite book by another Maltese author.

My favourite book by another Maltese author: Henry Frendo’s Europe and Empire: Culture Politics and Identity in Malta and the Mediterranean, published by Midsea Books and Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti.

It’s about: The inter-war period through the contexts of the British Empire, Europe, and the Mediterranean, exploring national and international cultural politics, and of course, offers new insight on the 1930s and Malta’s issues in identity of nationhood.

The thing that most fascinates me about it is: Frendo’s book is prefaced with a quote from Simon Shama, author of In Search of History’s Muse: ‘To know our past is to grow up.’ I find Frendo’s exploration of history in the 1930s, tackling concepts such as the transitions and transformation through post-colonial histories, the connections to Empire and imperialism, through to decolonising the mind and reclaiming history, to be central for anyone with an interest in Maltese histories.

It is written by a hugely respected Maltese scholar and academic who voices Malta’s past: culture clashes, quests for autonomy, as well as the entanglement of nation, tradition, and modernity beyond the British Empire. Frendo helps his reader understand some of the problematic issues around self-government, its abolishment and reinstatement. It’s a must read for anyone interested in Maltese history!

My favourite quote from it is: Rather than a quote, I would say my favourite thing about it is a photograph of Princess Poutiatine’s aunt and uncle, Princess Catherine and Prince Mikhail Putyatin (as the original Russian family name), who settled in Malta in April 1919 after leaving Odessa. This unique photograph of the couple marks the arrival of the Russian refugees weeks before the uprising of Sette Giugno in 1919. The photographs in the book offer fascinating visual snapshots of the past, and augment Frendo’s accessible writing style.

If I could ask the author anything about it, it would be: Knowing Frendo has read my writing on ballet in Malta between interwar and independence periods, I would enjoy partaking in a conversation on decolonisation of histories.  

It’s helped shape my writing/thinking because: Frendo’s book offers new insight into Malta during the 1930s, a period which influenced my thinking about the position of ballet in colonial Malta in the 1930s and, subsequently, evolved into ‘A Golden Era of Ballet’ in Princess Poutiatine and the Art of Ballet in Malta. Frendo’s writings about this ‘least well-known’ and ‘sensitive period’ of Maltese histories allowed me to imagine how ballet fit around the concepts of Empire.

I imagine how Poutiatine developed her school in the 1930s and staged her ballets at the Royal Opera House – her performances uniquely brought together the ‘judiciary’ (Sir Arturo Mercieca), and the oppositional sides (Sir Gerald Strickland and Sir Ugo Mifsud). Without Empire, I believe that the incentive to develop the ballet culture in Malta may have taken a slightly different path.

I’m currently working on: Two book projects: one is on ballet pedagogy in contemporary times of equity, diversity, and inclusion, and the other is on performance histories within the context of the Mediterranean.

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