Zeljko Jovanovic: This year’s success is just the beginning, Romani culture at the Venice Biennale transcends national borders

Greg Stevens

Eugen Raportoru and his painting at the exhibition (2022 Venice Biennale) (Photo: ERIAC)

This year’s Venice Biennale is a fantastic second for Romani lifestyle. The exhibition of Romani artist Małgorzata Mirgy-Tas in the Polish pavilion is not the only illustration, either. 

In the city heart, an exhibition by the renowned Romani painter Eugen Raportoru is also taking position in a palace dating to the 15th century, surrounded by the waters of the Venetian canals. “This 12 months, anything extraordinary has transpired,” Zejlko Jovanovic, director of the Open Society Foundation’s Roma Initiatives Workplace and chair of the Board of Administrators of the European Roma Institute for Artwork and Lifestyle (ERIAC) mentioned at the grand opening of the exhibition, who, alongside with ERIAC Executive Director Timea Junghaus, is 1 of its commissioners.

“If you believe that in it, each and every effort will manifest benefits. Our participation in the Biennale is a promise, irrespective of all that is occurring now with the war in Ukraine and the threat of nuclear conflict,” Jovanovic said.

In accordance to Junghaus, Romani society is fantastic precisely simply because it transcends national borders and phone calls for multinational participation. Having said that, in the very long history of the Biennale given that its opening in 1895, this is just the fourth time Romani artists have been presented room there. 

Commissioners of the exhibition Zeljko Jovanovic and Timea Junghaus at the ceremonial opening of “The Abduction from the Seraglio” at the Loredan Palace (Image: ERIAC)

The to start with time was in 2007, when an exhibition of present-day Romani artists referred to as “Paradise Dropped” took position at the Biennale. This year’s exhibition entitled “Abduction from Seraiglio” is the result of collaboration among Eugen Raportoru, a 60-yr-previous male Romanian painter of Roma descent, and activists who are female, Roma, and perfectly-acknowledged from the younger generation, this kind of as the award-successful actor, director and screenwriter Alina Serban and the gifted, flexible artist and founder of the Giuvlipen Theater Enterprise in Bucharest, Mihaela Dragan.

The total exhibition is conceived as the interior of Eugen’s childhood property in the 1960s and 1970s, whereby his significant-structure paintings are his individual interpretation of the tapestries that utilised to be a repeated decoration of house interiors in Romania. Higher than a double bed with a vibrant bedspread cling the tapestries that adorned the painter’s childhood residence. 

The subject of those tapestries, just after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s singspiel, was “The Abduction from the Seraglio”, right after which the exhibition is named. Above them is a picture of “The Last Supper” following the initial by Leonardo da Vinci.

“An graphic of ‘The Previous Supper’ is really often a part of dwelling decoration in Romania,” says the younger curator of the exhibition, Ilina Schileru, who is not Roma herself. “In truth, it was interesting for me to learn how substantially the Roma homes in Romania resemble the non-Roma ones. Individuals in our nation like this image, and regularly they do not even know who painted it. It is a symbol of faith and togetherness, a evening meal the place lots of folks appear together.”

Alina Serban executing in the exhibition “The Abduction from the Seraglio”(Photo: ERIAC)

Most of the exhibition’s tools and props were being mentioned to have been identified in flea markets by the artists. These involve textbooks, an old turntable, paintings, interval furniture, images and porcelain.

The curator very first bought to know Raportoru through her scientific tests at Bucharest’s Nationwide College of Artwork. She experienced just graduated from superior school and Eugen was 45 yrs previous when, as an now renowned artist, he made the decision to insert to his inventive instruction by enrolling there. 

Immediately after Raporturu approached Shileru to collaborate on this year’s Biennale, their suggestions joined forces in an appealing undertaking that challenges viewers to demolish prejudice and transform their mindsets by way of art and creativity. Dragan and Serban then complete feminist voices in a section of the undertaking that resonates with the subject areas of this year’s Biennale.

“I agreed with Eugen that we would invite famed ladies and give them absolutely free rein. It is really completely up to them how they enrich the exhibition,” reported the young curator.

Mihaela Dragan offers blessings with flower petals in the exhibition “The Abduction from the Seraglio” (Picture: ERIAC)

Dragan and Serban crack down stereotypes by way of their performances without at any time giving up on what would make Romani tradition unique. Dragan, dressed in exclusive outfits, speaks her traces in verse. 

She walks by way of the props: Crystal balls for fortune-telling and tarot playing cards, incense and roses. She speaks about discrimination, the marginalizing and stereotyping of Roma, the sexualization of Romani girls. 

Dragan invests her verses with her perception that a single can alter one’s fate, calling for therapeutic and really like. She emphasizes the electrical power of ladies and speaks to them.

“Increase up women, all ladies increase up,” she recites. In the upcoming home, Alina Serban offers out paper cones comprehensive of sunflower seeds to the guests. 

The seeds are a reminder of a story about her moms and dads, one particular marked by prejudice and racism. “You’re blessed to have a bastard in your belly. Or else, I would jump on you with my boots on,” she quotes a police officer declaring harshly to her pregnant mother when she was promoting sunflower seeds.

“For me, sunflower seeds signify the local community. Protection. Sad to say, the Romani neighborhood is perceived from the outside the house as uneducated. So I invite you now: Be uneducated with me,” Alina states to the readers, drawing the viewers into her world and presenting cones comprehensive of seeds as a symbol of solidarity.

“The Abduction from the Seraglio” opened on 22 April, and on that situation many vital figures and journalists met in the entrance hall of the Loredan Palace. Between them had been Dijana Pavlovic, an activist and politician dwelling in Rome Ioanida Costache, a filmmaker, violinist and writer and the activist and American university professor of Romani origin Ethel Brooks, all of whom then contributed to the exhibition with their have performances.

In his speech, Jovanovic expressed his hope that Romani persons will be capable to get their very own long-lasting space at the Biennale in the long term. “This 12 months we are encountering an exceptional scenario,” he explained. 

“Nevertheless, it is necessary to break down this dogma that only persons who have their have state can have their personal pavilion. We are not carried out,” he claimed. 

“This year’s victory is just the starting,” Jovanovic informed the exhibition people. Speaking to Romea.cz, artist Eugen Raportoru claimed: “We have a large amount of skills and we have a large amount to explain to the globe by means of our art. We have to have to be witnessed, we will need assist, and we have to have men and women to recognize who we are.”

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