Roma Rajni: RomaMoMA Library ft. Daniel Baker and Farija Mehmeti opening
With the exhibition Roma Rajni and the RomaMoMA Library, ERIAC brings together the painterly oeuvre of Farija Mehmeti and the RomaMoMA Library with the site-specific installation, entitled Adjacent, by Daniel Baker, at the National Library of Kosovo.
The RomaMoMA Library was created in 2021 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the First World Romani Congress. It is dynamic and nomadic, engaging with local contexts wherever it travels. Comprising some 150 books on contemporary Roma literary, artistic and cultural heritage, the library’s growing collection showcases this rich Roma legacy, while critically interrogating the violence and oppression faced by the Roma in Europe.
The RomaMoMA library is activated through Adjacent, the mobile knowledge device conceived for RomaMoMA by artist Daniel Baker, and the exhibition of 39 portraits by Kosovar painter Farija Mehmeti. “Adjacent is a development of the artist’s interest in the relationship between the virtual and the embodied, and the representation of abstract thought through physical and optical means – mechanisms of knowledge distribution and the construction of meaning which lay at the heart of Roma visual culture”. (D. Baker) Mehmeti displays a multifaceted mosaic of imaginary characters to contemplate, and honours the everyday heroism and struggle for existence of ordinary Roma women. The artist’s portrayals of powerful brown women wearing traditional Romani fabrics and jewellery in front of vibrant backgrounds transcend traditional forms of biased representation of Roma women, and reclaim the defining moment of identity and storytelling, too often assigned by non-Roma, as historicised and perpetuated by dominant culture. In depicting these everyday female heroes, Mehmeti cultivates both a sense of the past herstories, as well as a foresight for the future. Her portraits are vehicles to remember and unearth suppressed Roma forms of knowledge — on strategies for reproductive health, the preservation of mental health, and healing practices in general, as well as Roma wisdom on nature, cosmos and the universe. As memories and embodied experience of these reservoirs of knowledge, the portraits also serve as a reminder for the elders in the community who hold it and pass it on to succeeding generations. With her vibrant and brilliant visual vocabulary, Farija Mehmeti thus enables a view through time in honouring the past and offering ways of continuing to imagine the interdependencies and inseparability of existence in community, while providing a passage into the shaping of new futures.
ERIAC, with its two art spaces in Berlin and Belgrade, aims for long-term partnership with Manifesta Foundation. ERIAC joined the partnership with the Manifesta 14 Western Balkans Project in order to ensure that Roma culture and the Roma audience are adequately represented in this important Biennale. By facilitating spaces for deepening the understanding of different cultures and providing room for participative and creative encounters, we trust that Manifesta 14 plays a pivotal role in connecting people and catalysing positive change in the Western Balkans and beyond.
It is my greatest honour to thank the supporters and contributors on behalf of ERIAC: the artists Farija Mehmeti and Daniel Baker, the musical contribution by the Gipsy Groove, the Manifesta coordination-team, and the inspirational leadership of Manifesta 14, Hedwig Fijen (President of the Manifesta 14 Prishtina Board, Manifesta’s Founding Director) and Catherine Nichols (Manifesta 14 Creative Mediator). We celebrate ERIAC’s new alliances with cultural diplomacy, and we are thankful for the endorsement of the Kosovar Ministry of Communities and Returns; the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport; the German Embassy in Pristina for their support and recognition; and we acknowledge the diligent work and success of the ERIAC team, members Avni Mustafa, Edis Galushi, and RomaMoMA team, said Timea Junghaus, ERIAC Executive Director. The speech of Director Junghaus followed opening addresses from Jan-Axel Voss, Deputy Head of the Mission at the German Embassy in Pristhina; Gazmen Salijevic, Deputy Minister of Communities and Returns; Sylejman Elshani, Deputy Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport; Emilia van Lynden, Head of Marketing, Communications, Publications and Audience Development Manifesta 14; and artist Farija Mehmeti.
The exhibition is on view through 30 October 2022 at the National Library of Kosovo.
The project is implemented within the framework of Manifesta 14 Western Balkans project, and is co-funded by the European Union.