Roma Issue

An issue with majority

18. May 2013. – 26. June
MegnyitóOpening: May 17, 2013, 3:00 pm
Comparative institutional study of the Hungarian Roma Parliament and the Brno Museum of Romani Culture

‘Roma Issue’ – A Project with Majority’ was curated by Joanna Warsza, in the framework of Wielkopolska Revolutions in October 2012. The event looked upon the biggest minority in Europe as a source of possible, not apparent but vital political and social inspiration. The project website states: “Roma are most often stigmatized and marginalized and even social programs introduce an irreducible difference between the normative majority and the marked ’Other’. ’Roma Issue’ is an invitation to forget culture’s specific set of rules and asks how Romani culture could become a horizon of possible scenarios for reworking democratic tools, and what kind of models it could provide when it comes to collectivity, mobility, post-nationalistic and anti-territorial agenda, general assemblies, or self-design and daring architecture.”[1]

Gallery8 has adopted the attitude and approach of ‘Roma Issue’ for studying the two major institutions of the region in order to understand and define these “locations of cultures”.[2]

The exhibition will present the history and building of the Hungarian Roma Parliament, the sole institution in Hungary which could enable the Hungarian Roma minority to practice Roma cultural rights. It has been completely destabilized and deteriorated in the past years, and was almost evicted with force in 2012, only to be abandoned and emptied, and left in uncertainty. The exhibition presents both the history and the institutional construction of the Roma Parliament through the use of visual analysis. It focuses on the problematic of Roma representation using Brigitta Milák’s gigantic panel (2 m*3 m) entitled The Laws of Our Ancestors. This historical panel, which decorates the main wall of the Roma Parliament’s Theatre Hall, is a Roma national historical painting constructed from the montage of photos, gobleins, tapestries, prints and images collected and recycled by the Museum of Ethnography, and the artist herself. We suggest that the significance and importance of the Roma Parliament as a cultural location lies exactly within the potential to critically analyze the machinery of oppressive Roma-image production.

But if the critical analysis of the Roma-image is one of the main objectives of a Roma cultural institution, than is the only such institution – the Museum of Romani Culture in Brno – able to carry out this mission? Hence the exhibition also describes the history of the Museum of Romani Culture in Brno. It presents the popular informative film on the Museum and on its collections as well as exhibitions. Furthermore, the exhibition aims to outline the distribution of the institution’s funding sources. Although the Museum was called to life in 1991 after the lobbying activity of the Czech Roma intelligentsia – led by KarelHolomek – as a result of Roma cultural activism, since its establishment the Museum has not touched upon the sensitive issues related to the situation of Roma in the Czech Republic nor has it reflected upon the vivid international discourse of Roma contemporary art (since its establishment). Instead, it has made the choice to operate with ethnographic and anthropological curatorial and scientific approaches, completely avoiding (thus) the political connotations of art and identity, in particular that of Roma contemporary art. In its de-politicized representations, such as in the Museum’s promotional film, we see Roma people sing and dance but without any (cultural, social, historical) context or interpretation, while art pieces are made to constitute an inherent part of an ethnographic structure. Even in this „safe mode of representation” some of the exhibited artifacts disclose the operation of Roma oppression, such as the molded masks of Roma Holocaust victims, the Bock brothers, decorated with the original hairs collected by Robert Ritter and Sophie Ehrhardt German anthropologists during the Holocaust. These masks are now exhibited with seven other molded heads at the Museum’s Roma Holocaust exhibition (the sole comprehensive exhibition in the region about Roma Holocaust).

Will we be able to preserve the Roma Parliament for future generations? Do sustainability and independence arise as opposites in the case of a Roma Cultural Institution? Is working actively and consciously from within the Roma subjectivity feasible in the state-funded space of the Museum of Romani Culture, in Brno? What does the Brno location mean, for Europe’s only Roma museum space? – These are some of the questions which we will search the answers for in our current exhibition.