Nadikhuno muzeumos / Invisible Museum is a project organised by tranzit.sk, and in collaboration with ERSTE Foundation for the occasion of viennacontemporary 2018. Read our interview with the curator Judit Angel, artists Oto Hudec, and Emília Rigová on their visions for Invisible Museum and their reflections on Roma history, cultural representation, and problematic established stereotypes.
VC: Could you tell us a bit about the background of tranzit.sk and your actual focus?
Judit Angel : tranzit.sk is a contemporary art initiative active in Bratislava since 2002. We are part of the international network tranzit.org, made up of similar organisations set up in Hungary, The Czech Republic, Romania and Austria. Our main partner is the ERSTE Foundation.
Local and regional contemporary art practices and recent Central East European art histories have been part of our agenda from the beginning. In the last five years we’ve developed a more explicit focus on the relationship between art and society as well as on multidisciplinary approaches. Our research-based exhibitions, lectures, discussions and workshops address a broad thematic spectrum; among them include the heritage and culture of minorities, communities and collective practices, urban space and our neighbourhood, the art system and the conditions of artistic production. Our activities aim to contribute to the development of critical thinking, experimentation and bring together people active in various disciplines, connecting the local and the global.
How did you arrive with the idea to create the project Invisible Museum?
Judit: Last year, Jana Binder, the former director of Goethe Institut Bratislava invited us to collaborate within the framework of the project Collecting, Curating and Presenting Roma Culture, which also included a symposium held on the same topic. We had already worked together with artist Oto Hudec and we knew about his concept of a Museum of Roma Culture, therefore we invited him to present it in the format of an exhibition in transit.sk.
Oto Hudec: Slovakia is one of the countries with the highest percentage of Roma minority. Yet, the institutional cultural representation of Roma culture is not really visible to a general audience. Roma culture is rich and much more diverse than the traditional popular forms. While a new generation of Roma artists, activists and researchers appear, they deserve to be seen and their work should be reflected on. Roma people have been living in central Europe for centuries, but it is very rare to have an opportunity to look at the history of this region through their perspective. This was a starting point in opening up a discussion about the creation of a Roma museum. The exhibition at viennacontemporary 2018 is a result of this process, an unfinished reflection, a representation of various forms: community art, documentary videos, participatory art and activism, professional and unprofessional artists.
How does the name Invisible Museum relate or diverge from our understanding of conventional museums?
Judit: It points to the lack of visibility of Roma history, culture and contemporary art both in local and international contexts. Institutions dealing with Roma history and ethnography or documenting Roma culture exist in Slovakia and the recently founded ERIAC in Berlin has a considerable role in making Roma culture known worldwide. However, what we are missing, and especially in Slovakia, is a museum that goes beyond the classical ethnographic approach, that embraces aspects of contemporary life of the Roma people and elaborates on a multidisciplinary perspective on the collaboration between Roma and non-Roma professionals, artists, activists.
Oto: The name also challenges the perception of the museum as a colonial model of looking at the nation or community. Instead of a real physical building, our effort goes into forming an utopian institution, a source of knowledge, collected material and creativity, a cloud that is movable, fluid and relates to present and future as much as to the past.
Emília Rigová, Constant Metamorphosis, 2017, Video, Courtesy of tranzit.sk, Adam Šakový.
Why is it important for some of the artists to involve the community into their projects?
Oto: I consider it a step out from the individualism of the artist and out of the solitude of the studio. If we want to create an artwork that relates to social themes and if we want to be honest in our work, we need to establish a connection with those we are talking about. Then the next step is to involve these communities in the process of the work. This kind of work is much more based on the process itself than oriented towards the object / resulting outcome.
In the works by artists that involve community workshops and dialogical approaches to the Roma topic, how do they define the “artwork” in the end?
Oto: What is an artwork, is it the final product? Is it the object that is material, ready to expose or to be sold? Is it a relationship, a creative environment that is created in the process, a performance, a cooperation? It would be interesting to research, how Roma children and teenagers perceived an “artwork” during the workshop. Sometimes it is a process, a game, an activity. And only at the end, when they see the final result, they understand how each step led to a result. But the terminology of the art world is secondary, what is more interesting is how the process challenges their thinking, their imagination, affects their self-expression or self-confidence or how it forms the image they present to the outside world.
How do you see the representation of Roma contemporary art / artists in your local but also in the international art scene?
Emília Rigová: Something that was not visible here before has begun to be visible. After all, even this interview, which is part of the Invisible Museum project presentation at the viennacontemporary is a living proof of that. Or it could seem to be like that. I can’t help but point out that the representation of contemporary Roma art is still the work of several individuals, who, figuratively speaking, are carrying it on their backs. The joint effort of these authors is to become liberated from the social position – the predefined perception and thinking of the majority about Roma. It is important that this theme makes its way into the awareness of the intellectual layer of the population through art. We are in a period when equal dialogue is possible. I believe that the latent racism present even in this institutional art sphere will disappear in time thanks to the activity of a few individuals whose voices are becoming louder and beginning to be heard.
How could contemporary artists contribute to making the Museum of Roma culture a lively, present-day focused institution?
Emilia: Right here, right now there are artists whose creations contribute to making sure that there is something to represent and something to talk about. We are leaving something for the new generations that will follow, which due to various reasons, the generations that came before us didn’t – an image of us created by us. We are no longer an object of observation or a romantic myth. We are living in a time when the appropriation of the Roma body in the history of western culture is questioned by many personalities and artists, who among others, identify as Roma. It is a very complicated transition phase which is related to self-decolonization or the decolonization of the European mind, as well as the inner-imagination of Roma in terms of who they were, are and with whom they identify. It is a very complicated process which should take place participatively in a dialogue between the Roma and non-Roma communities…
Marcela Hadová & Marka romňakero gendalos group, Flowers, Photo, 2015 – 2018, Courtesy tranzit.sk, FOTO – Eliáš
How can art bring its contribution to social change?
Judit: In order to achieve social change, the whole social system has to be changed starting with the uneven distribution of economic wealth and power relations among people to the changing of the majority population’s attitude towards minorities, outsiders and various marginalized categories. Art can be only part of this process by highlighting values, instilling debate, opening people’s mind to what does critical thinking mean and how it empowers the individual.
Oto: Art, as well as activism can bring a spotlight to a certain social problem. Art can also, in some participatory practices stimulate the best in people who participate, open their eyes, inspire them. The artist as a teacher or community worker can create a true dialogue with people or can bring a creative solution to certain issues. But such changes are not structural and art cannot be a substitute to the work of larger state or non profit organizations.
Is there a continuation of the project?
Judit: Yes, we are working now on a Slovak – Romani – English book that takes further the idea of a Museum of Roma Culture. We collaborate with artists, professionals from the fields of literature, music, museology, film, visual arts as well as activists asking them to elaborate from their own perspective on how they imagine the museum, its structure, composition, functions and activities. As Oto remarked, the museum is an open project, we’d like to create a discursive space where people can bring their own ideas, confront views and imagine together institutions of the future.
As exemplified by Oto Hudec’s installation in the exhibition, his view of a Roma culture museum is based on dialogic principles. It is an open vision for an alternative museum that would offer more than the traditional ethnographic view and would instead focus on contemporary culture of Roma, their current social and political situation as well as their history. It is based on field research, discussions with Roma professionals, cultural workers and creative workshops with young people from Eastern Slovakia.
Oto Hudec, Nadikhuno muzeumos / Invisible Museum, 2017, Mixed Media, variable dimensions, courtesy of tranzit.sk, Adam Šakový
In her video and photographs, Emíla Rigová reflects on the stereotyping of Roma women. She stylises herself in the romanticising ideal of a traditional Roma woman with the aim to deconstruct it and appears as a black Madonna in order to reveal the arbitrariness of skin colour categorisation.
Emília Rigová, A Self-Portrait, 2017, Photography, 130 x 100 cm, courtesy of Emília Rigová, Robert Gabris
The tattooed bodies of Robert Gabris’s copper engravings speak to a society that instead of solving social problems relegates unwanted people to spaces of confinement. The artist also presents two complementary drawings: one which uses handwritten text as pictorial language in order to talk-out traumas created by participating in a compassionless education system; the other celebrates the joy of free movement and gathering in which flies symbolise the concept of Roma togetherness.
Robert Gabris, If u are scared, don’t enter the forest!, 2017, drawing, 100 x 100 cm, courtesy of Robert Gabris
Robert Gabris 1 – 3, Das Balue Herz, 2014, etching, 50 x 70 cm, Courtesy of Robert Gabris, Robert Gabris
Painter Marcela Hadová manages Marka romňakero gendalos, the Roma women’s club in the village of Rankovce (Eastern Slovakia), where women create murals and paintings. The aim of the club is to establish a link among the women from the Roma community and to encourage them to become self-sufficient. The exhibition presents a photo documentation of one of their mural paintings created in the public space.
Marcela Hadová together with the Marka romňakero gendalos, Flowers, 2015, painting, variable dimensions, courtesy of tranzit.sk, Sándor Bartha
Another layer of the exhibition is comprised of the Karavan community project, which has been implemented by Daniela Krajčová and Oto Hudec since 2014. The project’s format is a mobile workshop in which the artists visit marginalized communities in various regions of Slovakia and carry out multi-disciplinary activities for children and young people. Through creative practice they strive to stimulate mutual communication and interaction, collective creativity and the presentation of their own stories and experience as a vehicle of empowerment.
Oto Hudec & Daniela Krajčová, Projekt Karavan, 2014–2018, mixed media, variable dimensions, courtesy of tranzit.sk, Adam Šakový
Nadikhuno muzeumos / Invisible Museum
Nadikhuno muzeumos / Invisible Museum is a project organised by tranzit.sk and initiated by the artist Oto Hudec. It features his vision of a Roma culture museum as well as the works of Robert Gabris, Daniela Krajčová, Emília Rigová and Marcela Hadová together with Marka romňakero gendalos, which reflect on Roma history and cultural representation and problematic established stereotypes. In a condensed form, these works strive to broaden the view of Roma history, culture and contemporary art.
Although the idea of a Roma culture museum took shape as a reaction to the social–political conditions and institutional system under which Roma are living in Slovakia today, its relevance is more far-reaching. Such a museum could play an important role in the cultural unification and emancipation of Roma by presenting their history, traditions and values. It could instil pride in having something valuable to give to the majority society, while encouraging them to recognise Roma culture as equal and beneficial. If self-definition is a condition of emancipation, the visibility of Roma culture and contemporary art, the inhabiting of the institutional system on a par with the majority culture and art are also important factors. This is not possible without a sustained dialogue between Roma and non-Roma, grass-roots organisations and state, local, regional and transnational initiatives.
Invisible Museum is an uncompleted plan, a collage of unfinished reflections to be offered for further reworking and discussion. In order to achieve real change, the entire social system must be changed. What can be achieved on the artistic and cultural levels is to strengthen the belief that this change will happen.
Judit Angel is curator and art historian born in Arad, Romania. She lives and works in Budapest and Bratislava. Since autumn 2013 she is director of tranzit.sk in Bratislava, conceives of the institution’s program, curates exhibitions such as The Need for Practice (2014), Ilona Németh: Revised Vision (2014), Mona Vătămanu & Florin Tudor: Flying Utopia (2015), Small/Big World (2016), Stopover (2017, co-curator), Collection Collective. Template for a Future Model of Representation (2017, co-curator), Start and Finish. Reflections on Project-based Culture (2018). She is interested in the social function of art, interdisciplinary research, critical discourses and collective practices.
Oto Hudec is a multimedia artist living in Košice, Slovakia. He created his recent work in Slovakia, Austria, South Korea, Cabo Verde, Portugal and USA. His videos, murals, animations, sculptures and works for public space focus on immigration, refugees and the impact of globalization on the environment. His projects often involve utopian perspective as a way to shed a light on food production, industrial landscape, or decline of bees. While interested in ecological living, food production and sustainability, instead of searching for new scientific solutions, he is looking into how nomadic and indigenous people achieved this. He often cooperates on projects with children and youth from disadvantaged communities. Since 2013 he works on on the participative project with Roma children in Slovakia Projekt Karavan together with artist Daniela Krajčová. He is a finalist of Oskar Čepan prize for young artists in 2012, Slovakia.
Emília Rigová is a visual artist and university teacher based in Banská Bystrica, Slovakia. In her graphics, installations, performances and site-specific interventions she works with the topic of cultural and social stereotypes and politics of the body. She focuses on the situation of minorities systematically neglected by the hegemonic historical discourses, collective memory and visions of common future, on construction of Romani identity and cultural and political appropriation of the Romani body. Emilia Rigová exhibits extensively, she is also active as writer and editor, currently, she is a finalist of Oskár Čepán Award for young Slovak artists.
The first version of this exhibition was presented at tranzit.sk in Bratislava between November 2017 – January 2018 as part of the Collecting, Curating and Presenting Roma Culture project implemented in cooperation with the Goethe Institut Bratislava and the Spolka Collective.
We thank gallery Futura, tranzit.at, the Gandy Gallery, the International Visegrad Fund, Združenie PRE LEPŠÍ ŽIVOT Kecerovce – Rankovce, the Museum of Roma Culture in Slovakia in Martin, the Documentary and Information Centre of the Romani Culture in Prešov, and the Museum of Romani Culture in Brno for their collaboration and help. We also thank all those who participated in the project with their interviews and help.
ERSTE Foundation is main partner of tranzit
Save the Date
27–30 September 2018
Marx Halle Vienna