Pasle ramosaripe vaś e protokolja

Rodipe

Suzana Milevska

Rewriting the Protocols: Naming, Renaming and Profiling

Summary / Short description

The concept of the project Rewriting the Protocols: Naming, Renaming and Profiling is based on the urgent need for a critique of and change to the long history of racial profiling and stereotyping of Romani people through various legal and cultural protocols, rules and documents. Such political and social phenomena are unfortunately still present and these issues continue to generate new protocols which are in return used to label and discriminate against many different Romani individuals and communities based on stereotypical racialised representations, derogative denominations and forced similarities.

The selected artists (Sead Kazanxhiu, Nihad Nino Pušija, RJKaS, Selma Selman and Alfred Ullrich) are challenging this vicious circle, addressing such issues and social phenomena with rigour and precision in their artistic practice by using various art media and forms of expression and action (photography, video, live art, digital art, public performance or activist interventions). Through their art projects, the artists are fighting the established social ‘order’ and calling for changes to the perception, self-perception, and representation of Romani people by proposing certain counter-strategies, such as rewriting art history and revising identitarian politics through renaming, over-identification, irony, as well as other artistic approaches from the position of contemporary art practitioners.

Selma Selman | You Have No Idea | fotografija | Serbia | 2016 | vis_00229_5 Rights held by: Selma Selman | Licensed by: Selma Selman | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Selma Selman – Private Archive

Introduction / Curatorial concept

The concept of the project Rewriting the Protocols: Naming, Renaming and Profiling is based on the urgent need for a critique of and change to the long history of racial profiling and stereotyping of Romani people through various legal and cultural protocols, rules and documents. With these political and social phenomena unfortunately still present, such issues continue to proliferate new protocols which are in return used to label and discriminate different Romani individuals and communities based on stereotypical racialised representations, derogative denominations and forced similarities. There are still a great many individuals (citizens and non-citizens alike) who are rendered invisible, silenced by isolation and the violation of their basic human rights. Even if someone is incapable of transcending racism and thus cannot justify the concept of a post-racial society, or might be incapable of unravelling all the inherited contours and inflexions of representation, they should take on board the responsibility of speaking up against injustice and discrimination.

The arbitrariness behind the term Roma was actually one of the first widely-agreed political decisions and actions in the history of Roma activism; it could be interpreted as a proof of the emergence of a transversal Roma agency aimed at rewriting the established protocols. Although ever since the 1971 international meeting of Romany people in Orpington, Kent (not far from London) the usage of the word ‘Roma’ (rather than variants of ‘Gypsy’) was agreed by the majority of the attendees and observers as a conscious political decision to denominate various groups, communities and cultural phenomena of Romani origin, the term ‘Gypsy’ is still widely used as a derogative exclamation and racial slur.

Rather than passively accepting the current situation, the project Rewriting the Protocols: Naming, Renaming, and Profiling therefore aims to unravel the hidden patterns of colonisation and subjugation, while also stressing the counter-movement against these patterns and the pursuit of new Roma subjectivities which resist and promote agonistic agency, as well as solidarity based on difference and the urgency for decolonisation.

The concept of the project Rewriting the Protocols: Naming, Renaming and Profiling is based on the urgent need for a critique of and change to the long history of racial profiling and stereotyping of Romani people through various legal and cultural protocols, rules and documents. With these political and social phenomena unfortunately still present, such issues continue to proliferate new protocols which are in return used to label and discriminate different Romani individuals and communities based on stereotypical racialised representations, derogative denominations and forced similarities. There are still a great many individuals (citizens and non-citizens alike) who are rendered invisible, silenced by isolation and the violation of their basic human rights. Even if someone is incapable of transcending racism and thus cannot justify the concept of a post-racial society, or might be incapable of unravelling all the inherited contours and inflexions of representation, they should take on board the responsibility of speaking up against injustice and discrimination.

Duldung Deluxe Passport, On the “toleration” and deportation of Roma youth and young adults in Germany | fotografija | bipindžardo | vis_00192_4 Rights held by: Nihad Nino Pušija | Licensed by: Nihad Nino Pušija | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Nihad Nino Pušija – Private Archive
Sead Kazanxhiu | 8 per 8 Prillin 2013 | instalacija | Albanien | 2013 | vis_00198_2 Rights held by: Sead Kazanxhiu | Licensed by: Sead Kazanxhiu | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Sead Kazanxhiu – Private Archive
Monica Diener | GLAM Intervention | fotografija | bipindžardo | 2014 | vis_00193_4 Rights held by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv | Licensed by: Monica Diener | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv – RJSaK (Zurich/Switzerland)
Monica Diener | Basic Roma | fotografija | Švajco | Sept. 15, 2015 | vis_00194_3 Rights held by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv | Licensed by: Monica Diener | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv – RJSaK (Zurich/Switzerland)

In addition to severe inequalities and injustices in political, social and economic terms, many restaurants still serve food under the ‘Gypsy’ label to stress the spicy and hot flavour of certain dishes, while Western musicians use it as a term to emphasise the supposedly exotic provenience of the rhythm and pace of their music style, and fashion designers employ it whenever adding more frills and patches to their new collections.

Moreover the images of caravans, wheels and other symbols dominate in many programmes related to Roma culture and art as exotic visual symbols for the assumed stereotypical ‘Gypsy’ lifestyle full of wanderlust, and even the Roma flag has a sixteen-spoked chakra stressing the alleged preference among Roma for a nomadic life, despite an ongoing trend for Roma to opt for a sedentary lifestyle.

Although the usage of the term ‘Gypsy’ is clearly not always motivated by racism and/or intentionally racist, the perpetuation of the term and the proliferation and distribution of stereotypical images certainly give way to and justify the subconscious and conscious patterns of racist behaviour.

  • RR Marki | Gelem Gelem | piktura | bipindžardo | 2007 | vis_00197_3 Rights held by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv | Licensed by: Mustafa Asan | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv (Zurich/Switzerland)
  • RR Marki | Gelem Gelem | piktura | bipindžardo | 2007 | vis_00197_1 Rights held by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv | Licensed by: Mustafa Asan | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv (Zurich/Switzerland)
  • RR Marki | Gelem Gelem | piktura | bipindžardo | 2007 | vis_00197_2 Rights held by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv | Licensed by: Mustafa Asan | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv (Zurich/Switzerland)
  • RR Marki | Gelem Gelem | piktura | bipindžardo | 2007 | vis_00197_4 Rights held by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv | Licensed by: Mustafa Asan | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv (Zurich/Switzerland)

The artists selected for this exhibition (Mo Diener, Sead Kazanxiu, Nihad Nino Pušija, RJKaS, Selma Selman, Alfred Ullrich) challenge these issues and social phenomena with their artistic practice in various art media and forms (photography, video, live art, digital art, public performance, or activist interventions). With their art projects, the artists are fighting the established social ‘order’ and calling for changes to the perception, self-perception, and representation of Romani people by proposing certain counter-strategies such as rewriting art history and revising identitarian politics through renaming, over-identification, irony, as well as other artistic approaches from the position of contemporary art practitioners.

Rewriting the Protocols: Naming, Renaming and Profiling

What is like to be... Roma?

What is like to be... Roma? Here we could ask the question ‘what is like to be Romani’, which resonates with the similar question posed long ago by Thomas Nagel.1 The work You Have No Idea comes as Selma Selman’s answer. She is one of the artists included in this exhibition, which ponders the urgency of trying to understand the complex historic, socio-political, and cultural background that designates Roma as a more general and common denominator for different traditions, communities and languages (e.g. Sinti, Kale, Manushes, Gitans, Gitanos and other Roma-related denominations). The artist exhausts herself and her voice by shouting the statement You Have No Idea as loudly as she can throughout the whole performance.

  • Selma Selman | You Have No Idea | fotografija | Serbia | 2016 | vis_00229_1 Rights held by: Selma Selman | Licensed by: Selma Selman | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Selma Selman – Private Archive
  • Selma Selman | You Have No Idea | fotografija | Serbia | 2016 | vis_00229_2 Rights held by: Selma Selman | Licensed by: Selma Selman | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Selma Selman – Private Archive
  • Selma Selman | You Have No Idea | fotografija | Serbia | 2016 | vis_00229_3 Rights held by: Selma Selman | Licensed by: Selma Selman | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Selma Selman – Private Archive
  • Selma Selman | You Have No Idea | fotografija | Serbia | 2016 | vis_00229_4 Rights held by: Selma Selman | Licensed by: Selma Selman | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Selma Selman – Private Archive
  • Selma Selman | You Have No Idea | fotografija | Serbia | 2016 | vis_00229_5 Rights held by: Selma Selman | Licensed by: Selma Selman | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Selma Selman – Private Archive
  • Selma Selman | You Have No Idea | fotografija | Serbia | 2016 | vis_00229_6 Rights held by: Selma Selman | Licensed by: Selma Selman | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Selma Selman – Private Archive
  • Selma Selman | You Have No Idea | fotografija | Serbia | 2016 | vis_00229_7 Rights held by: Selma Selman | Licensed by: Selma Selman | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Selma Selman – Private Archive
  • Selma Selman | You Have No Idea | fotografija | Serbia | 2016 | vis_00229_8 Rights held by: Selma Selman | Licensed by: Selma Selman | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Selma Selman – Private Archive
  • Selma Selman | You Have No Idea | fotografija | Serbia | 2016 | vis_00229_9 Rights held by: Selma Selman | Licensed by: Selma Selman | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Selma Selman – Private Archive
  • Selma Selman | You Have No Idea | fotografija | Serbia | 2016 | vis_00229_10 Rights held by: Selma Selman | Licensed by: Selma Selman | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Selma Selman – Private Archive
  • Selma Selman | You Have No Idea | fotografija | Serbia | 2016 | vis_00229_11 Rights held by: Selma Selman | Licensed by: Selma Selman | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Selma Selman – Private Archive
  • Selma Selman | You Have No Idea | fotografija | Serbia | 2016 | vis_00229_12 Rights held by: Selma Selman | Licensed by: Selma Selman | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Selma Selman – Private Archive
  • Selma Selman | You Have No Idea | fotografija | Serbia | 2016 | vis_00229_13 Rights held by: Selma Selman | Licensed by: Selma Selman | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Selma Selman – Private Archive
  • Selma Selman | You Have No Idea | fotografija | Serbia | 2016 | vis_00229_14 Rights held by: Selma Selman | Licensed by: Selma Selman | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Selma Selman – Private Archive
  • Selma Selman | You Have No Idea | fotografija | Serbia | 2016 | vis_00229_15 Rights held by: Selma Selman | Licensed by: Selma Selman | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Selma Selman – Private Archive
  • Selma Selman | You Have No Idea | fotografija | Serbia | 2016 | vis_00229_16 Rights held by: Selma Selman | Licensed by: Selma Selman | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Selma Selman – Private Archive
  • Selma Selman | You Have No Idea | fotografija | Serbia | 2016 | vis_00229_17 Rights held by: Selma Selman | Licensed by: Selma Selman | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Selma Selman – Private Archive

Thomas Nagel originally asked the philosophical question ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ in his renowned eponymous text, and this question is still a powerful and viable metaphor for the impossibility of any attempt to understand others.2 But in my text and project I propose to paraphrase the question and ask instead: is it really so difficult, and why would understanding another human being be an issue at all?

Are Roma really so different? Isn’t this question an invitation to yet another essentialisation? And if it is true, what made this communication and mutual understanding so difficult in historic and cultural terms?

However, the question is really not addressing any radical difference or impossibility of communication. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s answer from the end of her essay ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ – or more precisely, her answer to the similar cultural question – was that it’s all about listening to the specific voice while aiming towards a rapprochement with the other human being, although complete mutual understanding, even within the same ethnic group, culture, gender, sexual orientation or class, is doomed to failure from the outset. Every human mind is culturally redesigned so that only our ability and desire to be engaged in ‘presenting ourselves to others, and ourselves’3 and representing ourselves ‘in language and gesture, external and internal’4 make us different from the others. Nagel warns us that all relevant physical facts are not enough to provide us with proficient answers to the question ‘what is it like to be’ different, but this does not mean that we should not listen, empathise, and co-exist.5

In the light of recent disputes about cultural appropriation, using ‘we’ becomes an extremely sensitive and questionable matter precisely because of the gap between uttering the pronoun and acting out in accordance with its promise, particularly when hijacking the ‘we’ from the privileged position of the gadji (non-Roma) and disregarding Thomas Nagel’s warning about the cognitive impossibility of fully understanding what it is like to be someone else (even when discounting cultural similarities or differences).6However, proximity and empathy may still be the necessary aporic relations to strive for in order to work through ‘we’, even when conscious of the approximate impossibility.

What does it mean to belong to the Roma community and to be called by this name, and what really belongs to Roma and to the mere name of the Roma people in historic, cultural and socio-political terms? These are the entangled and reciprocally related issues at the heart of this project. The artists, activists and theorists contributing to the project address the urgency of openly challenging the misunderstandings, stereotypes and controversies surrounding the names used for addressing Roma people, as well as the relevance of the meaning of the term ‘Roma’ and the reasons for the reluctance to use it among both non-Roma and some of the Roma communities. The project also ponders the power of naming and its potentiality for empowerment with a seminar and workshop that will discuss various aspects of Roma inclusion by ‘inscribing’ Romani names in public space.

The project is invested in the right to determine and decide the position towards the name Roma, from which Roma could utter their statements of belonging or non-Roma could act as agents of empowerment and solidarity with Roma. Not only is this challenged by pushing for some concrete critique of derogative and pejorative terms such as ‘Gypsy’, ‘Cigani’, ‘Zingar’, ‘Tsigane’, or ‘Zigeuner’, which mostly function as a sign of stigma rather than as proper ethnic names, and which are often overburdened with anti-Roma sentiments due to the strengthening of racist right-wing politics across Europe (such was the recent case with the official initiative in Romania to revert from the established name Roma to ‘Tigan’),7 but it also involves proposals on how to ensure a Roma presence in public space given that many Roma have arrived in Western countries under very different circumstances: some of them as immigrants, some of them as refugees after the war in ex-Yugoslavia, and some of them born as second- or third-generation descendants.

Nihad Nino Pušija | Duldung Deluxe Passport, On the “toleration” and deportation of Roma youth and young adults in Germany | fotografija | Germania | 2012 | vis_00192_2 Rights held by: Nihad Nino Pušija | Licensed by: Nihad Nino Pušija | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Nihad Nino Pušija – Private Archive

Nihad Nino Pušija’s project titled Duldung Deluxe (Toleration Deluxe) reflects on the official German document – a Duldung – which claims ‘toleration’ in its name, but is actually directly related to the deportation of Roma teenagers and young adults from Germany to their countries of origin such as Bosnia, Serbia or Kosovo.8 The series of passport photographs Duldung Deluxe is actually a series of portraits which unravels and documents the questionable restrictive EU policy towards Roma as Europe’s largest minority. While there is no legal proof of discrimination, half of the deported Roma after 2009 were children who had mostly been born and raised in Germany. Therefore the legal term ‘repatriation’ does not reflect the fact that Germany was their home country. Roma children were thus deprived of their homes and forced back to their predecessors’ nomadic lives although this was neither through their own volition nor their preference, thereby perpetuating the long lived myth and common stereotypical image.

Duldung Deluxe Passport, On the “toleration” and deportation of Roma youth and young adults in Germany | fotografija | bipindžardo | vis_00192_5 Rights held by: Nihad Nino Pušija | Licensed by: Nihad Nino Pušija | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Nihad Nino Pušija – Private Archive

The arbitrariness behind the term Roma was actually one of the first widely-agreed political decisions and actions in the history of Roma activism, precisely because Roma differ among themselves, too.9 The reference to the absence of Roma names and images of Roma personalities in public places and to defamatory images of Roma and the use of derogatory names and inscriptions correspond to the arguments in visual culture about the profound impact of the proliferation and general distribution of images with problematic content in public spaces (e.g. in the works by Alfred Ullrich). However, this reference is also used as a platform for calls that a greater visible social presence be claimed for and allocated to relevant references to important Roma personalities.

Who has control over the naming and renaming...?

One of the most obvious questions to be asked here is: Who has control over the naming and renaming, and how can this power be used to reproduce and distribute certain dominant cultural and moral principles?

The internalisation of derogatory names as bearers of the regimes of representation, identification, self-essentialisation and self-racialisation creates a threatening vicious circle from which a way out must be urgently sought. In the view of Gilles Deleuze, the first moment of giving/receiving a name is in itself ‘the highest point of depersonalization’ because it is here that we acquire ‘the most intense discernibility in the instantaneous apprehension of the multiplicities’ belonging to us.10 Therefore this project puts pressure on the hegemonic regimes of representation which are present and enduring on account of both arbitrarily chosen names and internalised strategies of self-representation that are imposed upon individuals through nominal structures. The project’s curatorial concept attempts to rupture this kind of closed circle of only critiquing the perpetuation of stereotypical representations and continuing with ambivalent practices pertaining to the marginalisation of Roma presence in public space. Some aspects of the project were instigated by the urgency of addressing recent cases of individual and collective displacements, evictions and deportations of Roma citizens from their homes in many European countries, and so these events are addressed in the artworks though metaphorical expressions or concrete actions.11

Alfred Ullrich | Landfahrerplatz kein Gewerbe | fotografija | Germania | 2006 | vis_00241_2 Rights held by: Alfred Ullrich | Licensed by: Alfred Ullrich | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Alfred Ullrich – Private Archive

For example, Alfred Ullrich’s works were based on the artist’s initiative concerning the signs ‘Landfahrerplatz kein Gewerbe’ [Site for Travellers: No Trading], which led to a correspondence between the chairwoman of Künstlerverinigung Dachau (KVD) and the mayor of Grosse Kreisstadt Dachau.

Alfred Ullrich | Landfahrerplatz kein Gewerbe | fotografija | Germania | 2011 | vis_00241_1 Rights held by: Alfred Ullrich | Licensed by: Alfred Ullrich | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Alfred Ullrich – Private Archive

The artist’s persistent initiatives pressing for action eventually persuaded the local authorities to remove the derogatory signs from public sight. The result of the process was Ullrich’s work Crazy Water Wheel (2009–2011), which consists of two videos, The first video is a loop showing only the turning wheel of a watermill near the Nazi concentration camp of Dachau, referring to the eternal recurrence of racism. Side by side with the watermill wheel there is a documentary showing an informal private performance of the artist commenting on the traffic signs ‘Landfahrerplatz kein Gewerbe’ – a warning that itinerants are not allowed to trade or peddle in the area. In the work the inscription is crossed out, although at the time these signs were still in use in Bavaria. This simple action highlights how seemingly neutral regulations in fact enforce the segregation of Roma travellers from others.

Alfred Ullrich | Crazy Water Wheel | fiksno video | Germania | 2011 | vis_00242_6 Rights held by: Alfred Ullrich | Licensed by: Alfred Ullrich | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Alfred Ullrich – Private Archive

The artist is recorded as he questions and crosses out the inscription on the traffic sign by holding three signs, one after another: a question mark, a cross and a sign suggesting a new term to replace the old one: a simple ‘Rastplatz’ [Stopping Place]. He is thereby pointing to the relevance of each term and name perpetuating the same old stereotypes, just like the wheel itself. The artist had previously exhibited a series of photographs of the existing signs (2009) as well as the outcome of this long-term process, the work On the Move (2009–2013), in which he also exhibited the official correspondence.

Clearly, discrimination on the basis of ethnicity is preserved through language and visual public memory, something that gives way to reinforcing the existing stereotype of Roma people as ‘exotic’ creatures, full of wanderlust, who are always ‘on the move’; while this might be true to some extent, Ullrich’s work (as well as the work by Pušija) points to the fact that it has not always been their own choice to live this way.

In light of the current neoliberal capitalist advance and its thirst for cheap or even free land, political manoeuvres are reversed by the proposal to push for a more obvious presence of Roma in public space. Therefore the presence of Roma (and not ‘Gypsy’ or ‘Zigeuner’) names in public spaces may serve as a reminder to that unique moment when a small number of leading progressive Romani activists of the time made a self-aware decision: this actually paved the way for the first political initiative and attempt to achieve social change and rupture in the long-existing practice of undermining and humiliating Roma in public, or simply moving to counter the fact that the presence of Roma and Romani lives was being perpetually ignored.

The greatest challenge that Roma activists face in contemporary society, which is full of contradictions affecting Roma with regard to inclusion, emigration laws, labour and housing policy, is to balance the need to create greater communal political cohesion and to enhance the credibility of those who claim to speak in the Roma name, whilst also attracting support from society as a whole.12 Therefore the role of the contemporary Roma artists in the exhibition is not limited to uttering anti-racist testimonials and highlighting injustice; the project’s strategy also suggests new paths and expressions that would act as a kind of agency, playing a role (just as the term ‘Roma’ used to play a role) in inflicting social change within the artists’ own communities, in the wider context of artistic and political institutions and in the general public space.

However, speaking out about controversial issues has a price, as Sead Kazanxhiu, an Albanian artist of Roma background, has so eloquently suggested. In his video performance A Choice to Be Made, A Price to Be Paid (2015), Kazanxhiu refers to the issue of the right to territory and land – a right which is usually denied to Roma in many different contexts. The title, and the statement that when you make a choice ‘there’s something you have to agree to’, was based on a quotation by Romanian sociologist Nicolae Gheorghe, relating to the contradictions stemming from what in Western terms is the ‘vaguely defined’ concept of ownership among Roma with respect to land, property and certain kinds of territory.13 In his work Kazanxhiu actually metaphorically addresses the complexity of Gheorghe’s claim about the issue of Romani phuv [Romani land]: that it’s taken for granted that due to their traditions of moving they don’t need and have the right to own land. For example, the fact that Roma people usually do not hold warranty deeds was used as a justification for the controversial displacement and expulsion of Roma from France in August 2010, and as an excuse for divesting them of their right to land which their families had inhabited for many generations.14 Even the French artist Tania Magy was affected by this change of ‘protocols’ regarding Romani rights to free movement, something which is also often mistaken for nomadism.15

  • Sead Kazanxhiu | Vendim per tu marr cmim per tu paguar | fotografija | Albanien | 2015 | vis_00199_1 Rights held by: Sead Kazanxhiu | Licensed by: Sead Kazanxhiu | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Sead Kazanxhiu – Private Archive
  • Sead Kazanxhiu | Vendim per tu marr cmim per tu paguar | fotografija | Albanien | 2015 | vis_00199_2 Rights held by: Sead Kazanxhiu | Licensed by: Sead Kazanxhiu | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Sead Kazanxhiu – Private Archive
  • Sead Kazanxhiu | Vendim per tu marr cmim per tu paguar | fotografija | Albanien | 2015 | vis_00199_3 Rights held by: Sead Kazanxhiu | Licensed by: Sead Kazanxhiu | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Sead Kazanxhiu – Private Archive
  • Sead Kazanxhiu | Vendim per tu marr cmim per tu paguar | fotografija | Albanien | 2015 | vis_00199_4 Rights held by: Sead Kazanxhiu | Licensed by: Sead Kazanxhiu | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Sead Kazanxhiu – Private Archive
  • Sead Kazanxhiu | Vendim per tu marr cmim per tu paguar | fotografija | Albanien | 2015 | vis_00199_5 Rights held by: Sead Kazanxhiu | Licensed by: Sead Kazanxhiu | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Sead Kazanxhiu – Private Archive

In Kazanxhiu’s video performance, the de-territorialisation of Roma for political, economic or social reasons is metaphorically presented as a cooking show. During the first part of the video the artist plays a role of a chef who prepares a meal out of mud (called shishik in Romani) which in Roma tradition is a special soil used for hygienic rituals (in contrast to the usual understanding of mud as a material for defilement).16 In the second part he plays the role of an educated Roma person (dressed as a bureaucrat) who stages the process of conducting persistent negotiations, lively discussions and making decisions in order to fulfil the dream of living longer at a particular spot and hence preventing the constant moving. According to the artist, the wishful concept of ‘Romani land’ (he inscribes the phrase on the wall at the end of the performance) is still a dream for many Roma, despite the bigotry and existing preconception about the nomadic character of their culture which ignores the empirical fact that many Roma had a sedentary lifestyle, even in the distant past.

In the struggle to right the racial bias, social inequalities, and (mis)representations that characterise our world today, the artists’ role is seen as unravelling these mechanisms (often by making them ironic or over-identifying with them) and simultaneously counteracting them with positive actions. Further aims of the project are recognising and pointing to the urgent need to decipher and unsettle new instances of racism, in all its guises, as well as denouncing them loudly, while also using any opportunity to call for radical action that affirms solidarity in difference and cohabitation in communal public space.

The Zurich based collective RJSaK was established out of the similar necessity to bring invisible racial biases to light which even exist in one of the most democratic European societal contexts: Switzerland.

The collective brings together Roma, Sinti and Yenish artists and activists who are originally from Switzerland or from Balkan countries such as Macedonia and Serbia. Their public performances, exhibitions, panel discussions, publications and other activities are produced collectively or by individual members of the collective; examples include the first RJSaK performance in 2013, Tableaux (très) vivants, and the series of participatory performances in public spaces and institutions, such are What Is the Color of Your Car? (2014), Estetika Walk (2016) and Detox Dance (2016–2017).17 Some of their projects are also organised and presented in a range of professional art and cultural institutions in various Swiss cities.

  • Monica Diener | Detox Dance | fotografija | Švajco | 2016 | vis_00075_1 Rights held by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv | Licensed by: Monica Diener | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv – RJSaK (Zurich/Switzerland)
  • Monica Diener | Detox Dance | fotografija | Švajco | 2016 | vis_00075_2 Rights held by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv | Licensed by: Monica Diener | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv – RJSaK (Zurich/Switzerland)
  • Monica Diener | Detox Dance | fotografija | Švajco | 2016 | vis_00075_3 Rights held by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv | Licensed by: Monica Diener | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv – RJSaK (Zurich/Switzerland)
  • Monica Diener | Detox Dance | fotografija | Švajco | 2016 | vis_00075_4 Rights held by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv | Licensed by: Monica Diener | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv – RJSaK (Zurich/Switzerland)
  • Monica Diener | Detox Dance | fotografija | Švajco | 2016 | vis_00075_5 Rights held by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv | Licensed by: Monica Diener | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv – RJSaK (Zurich/Switzerland)
  • Monica Diener | Detox Dance | fotografija | Švajco | 2016 | vis_00075_6 Rights held by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv | Licensed by: Monica Diener | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv – RJSaK (Zurich/Switzerland)

RJSaK’s art projects are clearly aimed at rewriting the ‘inherited’ protocols from the distant and recent past regarding not only Roma art and culture but also cultural identity issues, as well as the political and societal conditions of Roma in Switzerland and elsewhere.

Some of their posters and slogans (e.g. Morphing the Roma Label, Nothing about us without us) clearly point to the collective’s activist agenda. For example, until recently (September 2016) the status of Roma in Switzerland was not fully recognised and they were still referred to as ‘travellers’, effectively meaning that Roma, Sinti and Yenish did not have full access to the rights which were accessible to other recognised minorities, as governed by existing laws.18 Therefore, apart from their public art performances, the RJSaK collective is fully engaged in political activism with various NGOs and in a working group at BAK, the Swiss federal office of culture, which facilitated the process of shaping the rights of Roma, Sinti and Yenish communities as minorities in Switzerland.

...one cannot be thought without the other because art history cannot be rewritten without systemic societal changes.

Nevertheless, it is important to state that with its series of performances and other projects and posters (e.g. 1 Roma Dada Manifesto and Art History Hacking, both in 2016), RJSaK has also claimed a place for Roma and for their artworks in art history. Some of these self-historicising projects were part of the events marking the hundredth anniversary of Dada in Zurich, Dada Manifesto (1916) and the other anarchic activities of Hugo Ball, Tristan Tzara and further Dadaists (which originally took place in the historic Zurich club Cabaret Voltaire). These and other RJSaK activities (some even included as parallel events to Manifesta 11) pointed to the long-term absence of artists of Roma origin from art history. Despite the received knowledge about existing artworks by Roma artists in many different media, these works are not carefully collected, systematised and published and therefore the mainstream discipline of art history fails to recognise the existence of the influence and relevance of Roma artists. This is a particularly relevant point because of the long tradition of stereotypical representations of Roma in avant-garde and modernist art.

  • RR Marki | 1 Roma Manifest Zurich | printo | Švajco | 2016 | vis_00196_1 Rights held by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv | Licensed by: Mustafa Asan | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv – RJSaK (Zurich/Switzerland)
  • RR Marki | 1 Roma Manifest Zurich | printo | Švajco | 2016 | vis_00196_2 Rights held by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv | Licensed by: Mustafa Asan | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv – RJSaK (Zurich/Switzerland)
  • RR Marki | 1 Roma Manifest Zurich | printo | Švajco | 2016 | vis_00196_3 Rights held by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv | Licensed by: Mustafa Asan | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv – RJSaK (Zurich/Switzerland)
  • RR Marki | 1 Roma Manifest Zurich | printo | Švajco | 2016 | vis_00196_4 Rights held by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv | Licensed by: Mustafa Asan | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv – RJSaK (Zurich/Switzerland)
  • RR Marki | 1 Roma Manifest Zurich | printo | Švajco | 2016 | vis_00196_5 Rights held by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv | Licensed by: Mustafa Asan | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv – RJSaK (Zurich/Switzerland)
  • RR Marki | 1 Roma Manifest Zurich | printo | Švajco | 2016 | vis_00196_6 Rights held by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv | Licensed by: Mustafa Asan | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv – RJSaK (Zurich/Switzerland)
  • RR Marki | 1 Roma Manifest Zurich | printo | Švajco | 2016 | vis_00196_7 Rights held by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv | Licensed by: Mustafa Asan | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv – RJSaK (Zurich/Switzerland)
  • RR Marki | 1 Roma Manifest Zurich | printo | Švajco | 2016 | vis_00196_8 Rights held by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv | Licensed by: Mustafa Asan | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv – RJSaK (Zurich/Switzerland)
  • RR Marki | 1 Roma Manifest Zurich | printo | Švajco | 2016 | vis_00196_9 Rights held by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv | Licensed by: Mustafa Asan | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv – RJSaK (Zurich/Switzerland)
  • RR Marki | 1 Roma Manifest Zurich | printo | Švajco | 2016 | vis_00196_10 Rights held by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv | Licensed by: Mustafa Asan | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv – RJSaK (Zurich/Switzerland)

Rewriting art history protocols is therefore as relevant as the legal and political protocols, but of course one cannot be thought without the other because art history cannot be rewritten without systemic societal changes.

This project in the Visual Art section of RomArchive addresses the intertwining of different protocols and the reciprocal systemic relations between different theoretical disciplines, artistic practices and media, and the political, societal and cultural rules which regulate and construct them.

Sead Kazanxhiu | 8 per 8 Prillin 2013 | instalacija | Albanien | 2013 | vis_00198_3 Rights held by: Sead Kazanxhiu | Licensed by: Sead Kazanxhiu | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Sead Kazanxhiu – Private Archive

Rights held by: Suzana Milveska | Licensed by: Suzana Milveska | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: RomArchive