A collection of brushed metal tags hang on a rusty wrung like a set of keys on the wall of the bakery. Each one an identical rectangular metal plate with four filleted edges and small enough to fit in the hand of a child. A hole is punctured clumsily in each on the top half. It is flimsy but sturdy enough to withstand the blow of a hammer denting distinguished numbers in an undeserving elegant font – 4, 18, 66, 7, 102. Their imperfections are honest about their maker: hands not machines. Inherited from the blacksmith’s stewardship, each number is a pair: one to be exchanged with the customer bringing their roast for cooking and the other to be placed in the cooking tray to distinguish between each dish sweating in the massive ovens. 

Most could only afford to do this once a week, and anybody who made the faithful trip to the baker’s with their family’s roast had a story to tell about the one time they almost dropped their most cherished meal of the week. 

Imagine the smells of warm bread and caramelised meat wafting through the Biccerija’s crammed and narrow alleys, home to hundreds of families. Today, the last residents of the near-extinct Biccerija community can point to different doors and name the various bakers that once holed up behind them. The ovens and bakers had long shut or moved out – collateral in the liberation from the Empire. Residents and bakers are now largely replaced by boutique hotels and tourists. 

From blacksmith, to baker, to eager eaters, the tag (“ic-comba”) weaves a thread to make unlikely and rich connections: a conduit of community fusing. What starts out as an impersonal collection of tags, is formed and shaped into a crucible of stories and memories both personal and collective of the sunday roast (ix-xuwa). Accessing this token of transaction is to momentarily feel the pulsations of a community and a history invisible in plain sight.

Ix-Xuwa is a collaborative art installation, developed with Andrea Zerafa, which formed part of fuse, a project created and curated by Elyse Tonna and produced by the Valletta Cultural Agency as part of the Agency’s Cultural Programme. fuse featured art works within the vicinity of the Valletta Design Cluster and the ex-Biccerija in Valletta in the summer of 2021.

Ix-Xuwa intertwines multiple histories, and the journey from concept to installation took over a year of discussions, research and community engagement. The below is just a snippet of what that process looked like. Thank you to everyone that supported the project, especially to our volunteers who helped us painstakingly imprint and stitch together 5,000 metal tags by hand, the locals who so openly shared their stories and their delight at recognising the tags replicated for this piece, Elyse who was our shining light through thick and thin and all the fuse production team.