‘I love it! An exercise to show racism in society.’
Galya Stoyanova, a photographer from Bulgaria, spent six months completing an internship at the Romedia Foundation in Budapest. Galya gained experienced as a lawyer and activist within the Romani movement. Her participation in the civil rights movement helped her to develop a film project in which she narrates over visuals depicting the process of Romani self-acceptance in the context of modern urban life. Pages of My Book is a short film from 2013 based on a performance acted out by Galya herself.
She had assistance and support in her project from the creative team of the Romedia Foundation, especially Katalin Bársony and Elemér Sánta. The collaboration between Galya and the Romedia Foundation was a key factor in presenting an authentic point of view from within the flow of the Roma identity.
In the film, Galya walked around emblematic and famous settings in Budapest while wearing the traditional clothes of Romani women and holding a camera in her hands, taking pictures of people walking on the streets. In the five-minute short film, two kinds of material alternate: black-and-white stills, taken by Galya herself, and moving images in colour, made by her supporting team. In the former images we see strangers facing Galya’s camera, while in the latter, Galya herself is the protagonist as a flaneur who walks on the streets: contemplating, taking pictures and sometimes talking with people.
The short film reaches the climax of its plot when she gets involved in a conversation in the Romani language with an old Roma woman, who then blesses her. As a result of this encounter, she realises that she is more relaxed wearing her traditional clothes and walking amongst other people than before. Happy to be someone in the crowd, but different from others, Galya re-appropriates the old saying: ‘We all judge a book we haven’t read by its cover, but the stories in our books are very different.’ With that conclusion, the film has a positive storyline: the Bildung of a Romani woman, so to speak, and along with that the film itself, presents a very affirmative feminist identity politics.
Galya’s short film has a lot in common with other artistic and political campaigns. As with Roma Body Politics. – No Innocent Picture exhibited in Gallery 8 (Budapest, Hungary), or the Stripping Off Stereotypes flashmob initiated by Romani students (Izmir, Turkey) or Selma Selman’s ironic short video Do Not Look into Gypsy Eyes, great efforts have been made to challenge discrimination and stereotyping.
But in relative contrast to these projects, Galya’s experiment is based only partially on criticising the majority’s traditional stereotyping of Romani people. What is applied much more here is the subjective point of view of a Roma woman, who, in the process of inhabiting a city, photographs people and is photographed by a crew, realising a double (objectifying and objectified) role. In this way, she turns the majority ruled subject–object relationship upside down. This helps Galya to accept her identity and to narrate the process of this self-acceptance.
3 June 2017, French Institute, Budapest
17–18 October 2014, Buvero Expo, Berlin