Butterflies are free

Victor Calleja meets two Frenchwomen who have come together to honour Daphne Caruana Galizia with an exhibition entitled Butterfly.

One of the photos to be exhibited in Butterfly. Photo: Candice NechitchOne of the photos to be exhibited in Butterfly. Photo: Candice Nechitch

Malta rarely features in the grand scheme of things. But Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination sent shockwaves and resonated across the world.

Two Frenchwomen felt their lives were so affected by this brutal killing that they wanted to pay tribute to the slain journalist, in the belief that what they experienced should be made public.

The two women, Cecile Calvet and Candice Nechitch, are close friends, even if one lives in Malta and the other in Paris. Calvet, who has lived here for nearly two years, is a writer, while Nechitch is a photographer and artist.

Interestingly they both heard of Caruana Galizia’s murder on French radio. They called each other in shock and decided on the spur of the sad moment to create a lasting tribute in the journalist’s honour, even if prior to her death they had neither met her nor followed her work. In fact, one of them had not even heard of her.

Calvet has contributed words to Nechitch’s photos in other projects but they had never attempted anything on this scale before.

“We wanted to get people who knew her and others who did not to write her a message on a paper in their own handwriting,” said Calvet.

In this they saw an act of freedom to choose what and how to write.

Writer Cecile CalvetWriter Cecile Calvet

Nechitch’s job was to subsequently take a photo of all these people with their scrawled messages and exhibit them somewhere in Malta.

The two women have no set plan as to when or how they will organise this exhibition but they aim to get on with it as soon as possible to be able to display the full outpouring of emotions.

Nechitch came over to Malta for a week to do the shooting – and with her friend they had what they described as a “defining” week. The task, which initially seemed easy enough, was arduous – in fact many people refused to be photographed. Some did not have the time, others did not want to be seen or were too overcome with grief or just camera shy.

To the two, the slain journalist has become the ultimate representation of free speech. The more they hear about her, the more they are awed by her.

“Because she spoke unpalatable truths, she was silenced. This is most barbaric,” Calvet said.

“When journalists are silenced, our freedom is threatened and that is why we have to make sure this does not happen,” Nechitch added.

Ironically, by killing Daphne, her standing has spread from Malta throughout the world

“Ironically, by killing Daphne, her standing has spread from Malta throughout the world. In fact, I never knew about her and her work even if I knew about Malta, especially through Cecile. Now I know not just about Daphne but about all she did and all she suffered.”

When they met people they wanted to photograph, the two felt a change – until then, Caruana Galizia had been merely a symbol but then she became human.

When they met people who knew, loved and miss her, they realised this “hurricane of a woman” was a human being, a mother, a friend, a wife. And the two found a new dimension to the journalist – the human one, the woman killed, the people grieving, the tears of people who longed to still be able to see her, reach out and speak to her.

Until a few years ago, Calvet still lived in Paris working as a screenwriter and an actress. She moved to Malta because in her mind, the island was a slice of the proverbial paradise – the idyllic life, architecture, people, friendliness all pulled her in. She has a young daughter and after the Bataclan carnage she felt she could not take Paris any longer. She lived not far from there and often visited the area.

Photographer and artist Candice NechitchPhotographer and artist Candice Nechitch

The Bataclan massacre made her want to escape the horror and give her daughter a better place to live in. But the journalist’s murder turned all this upside down – suddenly the idea of living in Malta, where a woman can be killed so horrendously just for uncovering truths and writing about them, was put into question.

Calvet had run away from Paris but, even if she is shocked and frightened, this time she has decided to stay put and send a message to the world. She will be coordinating the exhibition with Nechitch and will contribute any text connected to the photos.

Nechitch is an established photographer who has shot many film stars and celebrities. She has also taken part in important campaigns in France and in other places all over the world. She was one of 40 photographers from France who won a competition to take part in Le Pink Ribbon exhibition for breast cancer awareness. These were then exhibited under the Eiffel Tower.

Both hope their contribution will create a piece of art which could turn the journalist’s death into something positive by making her sudden silence very loud.

The project, which at the moment is called Butterfly, is a small beginning which they hope will cause a huge ripple effect and get people to think, appreciate freedom and remember the woman assassinated by a car bomb.

Killing someone is the ultimate abuse of power: the Maltese journalist’s death, according to Calvet and Nechitch, must not be the final surrender to the worst abuse imaginable.

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