The Biennale is a Red Carpet for Artists

Eugen Raportoru. Photo: Ilina Schileru

RomaMoMA interviews Eugen Raportoru.

Among the most recognised painters of his generation in his country of origin, Eugen Raportoru (Bucharest, 1961) has always taken pride in his Roma origins. His recent experiments in installation narrate past memories from his childhood and often contain self-referential elements through which he creates a hidden genealogy of the unspoken truths of domestic environments. The exhibition, commissioned by ERIAC and curated by Ilina Schileru for the 59th International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia, comprises a series of site-specific installations composed of numerous household objects inherent to the (Roma) domestic space, while a selection of paintings retraces the fraught trajectory of oriental carpets in Eastern European households.

You were selected as the artist for the Roma Exhibition of the Venice Biennale. Abduction from the Seraglio comprises a four-room installation and a series of paintings. What is the exhibition about?

In my exhibition, Abduction from the Seraglio, I am recreating the space of my childhood, as well as an idealised space – not what was, but what I wished for it to be. The exhibition brought me the opportunity to create a space that builds around the story represented in the wall carpet, Abduction from the Seraglio, a love story that also has many similarities with my own. The theme of the abduction was the most famous of the series of wall carpets that were a central visual element of Roma homes, where religious depictions and those of nature were present. I also painted the themes typically depicted in the wall carpets, rendering them not only a decoration of my most intimate family space, but also of my artistic practice, making them more personal.

What was your reaction in learning the news that you were selected for the Roma Exhibition at the Venice Biennale?

It was amazing news for me to learn that we made it, that we were selected by ERIAC for the Roma Exhibition. I was always enchanted by Venice and by the spaces and paintings I saw there. I always asked myself whether I would ever make it here, and I said to myself, no way. But then, as they say, what you really wish for, might happen. We all dream, and we all try to channel our vision of a better future. The Biennale is a red carpet for artists. I think all artists would want to exhibit at the Venice Biennale. I would like to use this opportunity to thank ERIAC for choosing me. And as we get closer and closer to the date of the opening, I started making other exhibitions, just to take sure my thoughts weren’t always on the Venice Biennale, as I would feel engulfed in excitement. This also comes at a time when in the past two to three years, I believe that I have reached my artistic maturity. Raphael only lived 32 years; yet, he left amazing works behind. I hope I will still have the chance to create more.

What are your expectations at the Biennale? 

I don’t know what will happen in Venice. What I saw there in the past years was an amazing technological presence, and it feels like painters do not belong there anymore. I will be a kind of fire extinguisher: I will take the furniture I grew up with, and mine will be a bit more of a classic approach – and I hope to be appreciated for it.

How did the transition from painting to installation take place in your artistic practice?

As far as I can tell, things never happen by accident. The idea of installation began with Roma Lives Matter, a march I intended to organise in 2020, but which never took place due to pandemic restrictions. I intended to organise a march of the Roma, where my paintings would also have participated, carried by two people – but we didn’t receive the permit from the municipality. I decided that we shouldn’t wait for any permit; we should do it anyway, and if necessary, pay the fine. These ideas fuelled my exhibition in August 2020 at the UAP (Union of Artists), that was also invited to the Museum of Bistrita for the commemorative events taking place on 8 September. This exhibition, entitled My Childhood Room, was acquisitioned by MNAC: National Museum of Contemporary Art. In My Childhood Room, I introduced family photos, pictures of my mother as a bride standing next to my father, pictures of myself with my twin sisters. Now my family is in the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Bucharest. Isn’t that amazing?

When did you start to focus on your Roma identity in your work?

It all happened organically, naturally. It came with my artistic maturity. When you understand that the time is right, you do it. Had I done it when I was 20 years old, it would not have turned out the same. I always felt I wanted to engage with my identity in my artistic practice. But when I was asked by the National Centre of Roma Culture to make thematic works, I would not. Impositions never worked for me. But when the time was right, when I was ready, it happened. Then I felt capable of working with own experiences. And I did not take it lightly. I also know I will be criticised and judged, and I am ready for it.

You are showing an installation and also paintings. Are all the paintings exhibited yours?

All of the paintings placed around the wall carpet are brought from flea markets. These paintings were made by amateurs and belonged to the realm of interior decoration essentials of our homes. There was a specific way how wall carpets were positioned on a wall in a room. Above the wall carpet, there was painting of The Last Supper, and the painting covered the upper portion of the carpet, while remakes of famous paintings were placed around it. I wanted to create an atmosphere of intimacy; I intended to recreate my childhood environment. Regarding my own paintings, they are the reinterpretation of the wall carpets.

What kind of impact do you think the Biennale will have on your career going forward?

I hope that I will have more credibility and will also be recognised in Western Europe. It would also be important for ERIAC to have a permanent pavilion. As Roma artists, we are so many and so different. On this occasion, I would like to thank ERIAC for presenting and representing Roma artists. Poland is represented this time by a Roma artist. I would need to be reborn five times in order to represent Romania.


 

Eugen Raportoru, one of the most important visual artists of his generation in Romania, graduated the Bucharest National University of Arts faculty of painting. Raportoru is the only Romanian artist of Roma origin to show his works at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, Vatican City under the aegis of UNESCO, the Ethnic Museum in Oslo, and in Stockholm through the Roma Party. His work has been exhibited on the walls of the Brâncuşi Hall of the Romanian Parliament, and shown in numerous exhibitions in the Romanian capital, including the Romanian Museum of Contemporary Art (MNAC). A member of the Romanian Union of Plastic Artists since 2010, he received the best painter award at the national UAP Gala in 2021. Raportoru’s work is regularly featured in exhibitions throughout Romania and is found in numerous private collections.

 

Interview by Etelka Tamás-Balha for RomaMoMA.


Collateral Event of the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia

Curated by Ilina Schileru

Commissioned by the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (ERIAC), Željko Jovanović, Timea Junghaus

Exhibition Venue: Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti | Campo S. Stefano 2945

Opening Event: 22 April 2022, 6–7pm
Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, Campo S. Stefano 2945, 30124 Venezia

Public Dates: 23 April – 27 November 2022


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