For the event MALTA’S MUSES: GODDESS; MADONNA; WITCH, Fragmenta invited performing artist, writer, musician, and folklorist Kay Turner to engage the Maltese people in an experience centered around these 3 female figures who are important on world scale, but who have a special place on the Maltese islands.
Prof. Kay Turner has been studying all 3 figures in her academic work. Beginning in 2012, Turner initiated a lecture-performance series “What a Witch” to explore the witch figure in participatory story-rituals. Turner is interested in the relationship between performance and writing as dialogic means for understanding and embodying the deep complexities of the witch figure beyond common stereotypes. Her feminist and queer text/performance approach ultimately rejuvenates the crone for the 21st century. Each performance deconstructs an aspect of the witch to explore meanings and powers associated with her body, accoutrements, and actions. The FRAGMENTA event in Malta was part 9 of this ongoing series.
At Tarxien temples, Kay Turner started her performance with a performative lecture about the 3 figures she was to explore – not just an ordinary lecture, but a presentantation which included smashing figurines with a hammer and inviting the audience to sing along to her songs. Throughout the performance, Turner explored various female figures both analytically and artistically, weaving them together in an embodied way. Her main aim, she stresses, is “to create embodied knowledge.” As professor of folklore, Kay Turner is concerned with the power of stories and the weaving together of different story elements to create new versions of old tales. Turner says“ the most important thing to remember about old stories is that we make them new again through our own interpretations.“ Karen Siegel and Paula Schorr, special guests from New York, came on stage to present their rap version of “Frau Trude,” a Grimm fairy tale about a witch and a girl. Their rendering of the fairy tale into a contemporary song was a prime example of story interpretation and caused a lot of laughter. Kay Turner explains “It is all about the stories and the power of their interpretation, and the weaving together of those stories. We can take basic roots of stories and their plots and motifs that have been around forever, and reinterpret them, here and now. That is how they become alive and embodied again and again.”
Turner then invited the audience to follow in a procession along the pathways of Tarxien temples. Leading the charge of the brooms, she took everyone to each of nine stations where they were presented with characters from Maltese traditional lore, such as the Venus of Malta, the Night Hag, Our Lady of Victory, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal and Sansuna, the Giantess. At each station, the audience was invited to participate in a ritual act or was given little items such as paper stars from a procession or beans.
The performance finalized in the collective building of an altar, discussions and explanations about the fragments of experienced stories. For the Malta edition, Turner brought forward the 3 figures of goddess, Madonna and witch, but alongside those also the figures of Agatha, Sansuna, Calypso, and others. Taking figures of females and weaving those together in a new story can produce an experience of new understanding. Turner stresses that she did not want to create a spiritual practice, but bring the power of stories, and alongside those, the power of story interpretation, to the foreground.
The procession through Tarxien temples was led by Kay Turner, who started out on a swift chase on her broom along the ramp, followed by the audience, partly on brooms, partly holding up images of female figures. Throughout the procession, 9 stations were presented to the audience: The Woman of Malta, the Veiled Mystery of the Goddess, our Lady of Victory, Sansuna, Night Hag, Goddess Protection Mudras, our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, the Oracle Whisper, and the Swirl Broom Call-down. All stations presented different aspects of the witch and her companions, the Madonna and the Goddess. All those images and figures came together in the end for the construction of an altar, presenting the merging of all story elements into a bigger story about women’s figural symbolism.
Turner’s take on the trio Goddess, Madonna and Witch, placed them alongside other famous trio constellations, such as the 3 graces, the 3 muses, the 3 sisters, the 3 spinners or the 3 witches in Macbeth. All of these trios have an effect on a fourth, often to assist a troubled person who lives on the earthly plane. Grimm’s „Three Spinners „ tale, for example, features three old magical women who help a young girl. The muses of Olympiade assisted artists and scholars – these female trios are helper figures. For the Malta performance, Kay Turner chose the image of Daphne Caruana Galizia as the fourth person who is helped by the trio of Malta’s Witch, Goddess, and Madonna. Turner has followed the Daphne Project and the story of her assassination and thus wanted to offer her performance to DCG in a symbolic gesture.
While the whole event was presented in a very playful way, engaging the audience members and creating interactive moments, Turner’s performance felt empowering and very enlightening.
Kay Turner is an artist and scholar working across disciplines including writing, music, performance, and folklore. Turner’s recent performance works include What a Witch, Parts 1-5, including Part 5, “Hansel and Gretel Queered (Devouring)” (2017); Part 4, “The Croning” (2016); Part 3, “Evidence” (2016); and Part 2, “Recognition.” Turner has also created, produced and performed “When Gertrude Met Susan: A Literary Love Fest” (2011- 2016); “The Black Kiss” (with Mary Beth Edelson), Brittany, France, 2014; “Otherwise: Queer Scholarship into Song” (2013- 2017) and, with Ella Gant, “Creating Queer Genealogies: The Spinster Aunt Project,” (2009).
Turner writes songs, sings, and has performed in numerous bands, most notably Austin, Texas- based rock punk, lesbian-feminist “Girls in the Nose,” (active 1985-1996), now touring again in celebration of its 33rdyear anniversary. After moving to Brooklyn in 1998 Turner continued her musical interests with guitarist Viva De Concini and bass player Mary Feaster, who with Turner comprise the band and music co-writers for Turner’s ongoing “Otherwise: Queer Scholarship into Song.”
Turner holds a PhD in folklore from the University of Texas at Austin. She is the current president (2015-2018) of the American Folklore Society. From 2000-2014 Turner was Director of Folk Arts at the Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC). Since 2002 she has been Adjunct Professor in Performance Studies at NYU where she teaches courses on gender and queer theory, temporality, and oral narrative theory. Her books include Beautiful Necessity: The Art and Meaning of Women’s Altars (NY and London: Thames and Hudson); Baby Precious Always Shines: Love Notes Between Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (NY: St. Martin’s Press); I Dream of Madonna: Women’s Dreams of the Goddess of Pop (San Francisco: Chronicle Books); and, most recently, with Pauline Greenhill, Transgressive Tales: Queering the Grimms (Wayne State University Press). Turner’s current book and performance project, What a Witch, queerly rethinks the witch figure in history, story and performance.
Performers were: Kay Turner, Paula Schorr and Karen Siegel ( Highland Park, New Jersey, USA) assisted by Mary Sanger ( Austin, Texas USA).
Performers of the procession: Sonja Stellini, Rose Caruana, Nadia Galea, Chiara Cassar, Jo Woodall, Kimberly Clark, Margerita Pule, Stephanie Sant, Greta Muscat Azzopardi,
This event was made possible through the generous support and help of Heritage Malta, Valletta 2018 Foundation, Rose Caruana, Katya Stroud, performers and Valletta Tal-Kultura volunteers.