Daniel Baker: Emergency Artefact #1 (2016)
Emergency Artefact No. 1, 2016, 47 cm Ø, crocheted from a single metalized polyethylene survival blanket. Photo, Courtesy and © Daniel Baker
The third edition of OFF-Biennale Budapest, INHALE!, takes the seminal political poem “A Breath of Air!” (1935) by 20th-century Hungarian poet Attila József as its starting point. The research and online exhibition project, Order and Dreams, a cooperation between OFF-Biennale and the Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives, presents the political and social context of the poem through archival materials, while contemporary artworks offer its possible 21st-century reading. The mid-1930s was an era packed with severe tensions, yet—as all eras—it was defined by uncertainties and contradictions rather than definite outlines. The exhibition centres around—among other topics—the rise of populist regimes, the crisis of modernism and questions of colonialism. In this latter chapter, we present both the colonialist exhibitions of the period, as well as the movements that strove for self-representation: the rise of the Négritude movement in France, and the Harlem Renaissance in the United States. Daniel Baker’s work, Emergency Artefact #1 (2016) is presented in the framework of this chapter.
While the 1930s was the period of the “Harlem Renaissance” in the United States and the emergence of “Négritude” in France, the representation of Roma/Gypsy/Traveller communities in Europe was still—for the most part—in the hands of Gadje [non-Roma], who considered Romani art as folk art. But as sociologist, activist, writer, and educator Thomas Acton put it, this attitude has changed little during the last century: “The work of modern Romani intellectuals and artists is often contrasted negatively with something collective, traditional and repetitive called ‘folklore’ or ‘naïve art’, as though anything produced outside of tradition must necessarily lack authenticity”. Artist, curator and theorist Daniel Baker, a Romani Gypsy born in Kent, England, is among those Roma artists and intellectuals who have persistently challenged this preconception during recent decades. An ongoing examination of the influence of Romani visual culture, both on Romani communities and on wider society, is at the heart of Daniel Baker’s work. By employing elements of a Roma aesthetic in his artwork, his intention is for us to look again at objects and narratives that might be overlooked, in order to find meanings that we might not expect, as is in the case of his Emergency Artefact #1, created during the time of the refugee crisis in Europe. As he himself put it: “Emergency Artefact is crocheted from a single survival blanket, the type used for disaster relief or to conserve the body temperature of accident victims. By utilising this material—usually intended for use in extreme circumstances—within the seemingly banal realm of hobby craft/domestic pastime, I intended to emphasise the precarious nature of safety and comfort that so many of us take for granted. This work also draws upon the shiny qualities that underpin the Roma aesthetic, to speak of the contingent nature of the Roma experience, where safety and stability are continually at risk”.
Emergency Artefacts, 2017-19, 8 cm -16 cm Ø, metalized polyethylene. Photo, Courtesy and © Daniel Baker