A series of photographs by Nino Nihad Pušija
“How difficult is it to get to know a culture through photographs, and how does this process play out specifically in the case of the culture of Sinti and Roma?”1 And how can it coincide with the self-determination and self-representation of “Sinti and Roma photographers”? Can a contemporary photography series awaken unprejudiced interest in “being different” and take a stand against automatic anti-Roma prejudice? Furthermore, how can the canon of visual representations of Sinti and Roma be disrupted? In this context, what is the meaning of Roma folklore movements, nation-building processes or cultural hybridity, among others? Can (cultural) institutions emancipate or legitimize “Roma artists”?
Previous examples of Sinti and Roma art exhibitions show that explanatory programs and exhibition texts very rarely contributed to determining or expanding the exhibited art pieces, video works or photographs, even though one of the most important functions of the “additional information” was supposedly to change the conservative, “typical”2 way of seeing.
It is important for viewers to be able to understand new perspectives on a Roma art exhibit, which go well beyond their preconceived notions. This revives and activates important impressions and thought processes, such as the question of the autonomy of “Sinti and Roma artists” as compared to “German artists”.
Through the performative transformation of the Instituto Cervantes into a (fictive) “Roma Cultural Institute”, the exhibited works and artists experienced an expanded positioning and meaning, which gave everyone involved food for thought. The “change of institution” clearly raised the question of who the exhibition was meant for.
I was able to achieve a successful disruption of the canon of Roma people's visual representation by selecting the photographic works of Nihad Nino Pušijas. I invited him to exhibit a small collection of photographs which where not “typical of Gypsies”. My goal was not to repeat the images expected by the “ethno-industry” and thus to highlight a very important issue: Roma artists do not need to create work that is “typical of Gypsies” to legitimize themselves as artists. I will go one step further: the versatility of the photographic motives in Pušija's works (see also the essay by Dr. Sibylle Badstübner-Gröger in the exhibition catalogue) refers to the complexity of ethnicized definitions of identity, national affiliation and simultaneous hybridities – in Pušija's case, the culture of ex-Yugoslavia and Germany – in a much more “honest” manner than is the case in “traditional” representations of Roma people.