Tamás Péli: Születés (Birth), 1983, oil on fibreboard panel painting in four pieces, total: 460cm x 910cm. Installed at the Budapest Historical Museum (BTM) for OFF-Biennale 2021. Photo: ERIAC.

Last week we posted the video documentation of the Restitution panel discussion within the online conference, Critical Approaches to Romani Studies, organised by the Romani Studies Program at Central European University (CEU), in partnership with ERIAC and OFF-Biennale Budapest, 31 May 2021.

Today we post Part 1 of the transcript.

The panel was introduced by Angéla Kóczé, Chair of the Romani Studies Program at CEU, as well as Hajnalka Somogyi, Founder and Co-Curator of OFF-Biennale Budapest, and moderated by Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka, Deputy Director of ERIAC. Panelists were visual artist and curator Daniel Baker (UK), Anna Szasz, RomaMoMA Curator at OFF-Biennale, Maria Lind, former Director of Tensta Konsthall, Stockholm, and current Councillor of Culture at the Embassy of Sweden in Moscow, and Nanette Snoep, Director of the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum (Cultures of the World, ethnographic museum), Cologne (D).

Part 1 includes presentations by Daniel Baker (UK) and Anna Lujza Szász (HU), with responses to such questions as:
Has the time finally arrived to restitute Romani artworks and artefacts?

What kinds of artefacts and artworks should be exhibited and for whom?

Part 2 will be posted next week.

Angéla Kóczé:

My name is Angéla Kóczé. I’m the Chair of the Romani Studies Program, and this very special panel is a part of the conference which is called Critical Romani Studies. I am really happy and grateful to have my colleagues, as well as Anna Mirga, who is the Deputy Director of the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture, and Hajnalka Somogyi, who is the Director of the OFF-Biennale, to organise this very important panel. I would actually like to start with a little story about where we started these very important dialectical and constructive relationships and dialogue, with some of us as curators of the Gallery Eight, which is a really small gallery that unfortunately is not working right now, though we hope it will be launched again. We were always thinking about the arts as really providing such a conceptual language, and which is always ahead of the discourse of social studies. And I’m really grateful that my colleagues from the art world can speak about things which are unspeakable in social studies, and which also shed light on the blind-spots of social studies, sociology, and anthropology. I am grateful to have this very critical and very progressive panel today. I would like to give the floor to my colleague, Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka from ERIAC.

Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka:

Thank you, Angela. Welcome, everybody. I am Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka, Deputy Director of ERIAC, the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture. We are very excited about this event today. Let me first start with a few words of thanks. First of all, we were very happy to again join forces with the Central European University, and the Romani Studies Program, around the building of this Critical Romani Studies Conference. But in particular, around the topic that we’ll be discussing today, which as Angela already mentioned, is very cutting-edge, extremely timely, and also, dare I say, somehow avant-garde, at least in the context of the Romani discussion, so it’s very important here. I am also very happy that we are here together with the OFF-Biennale team. You will hear very soon from Hajnalka, who is our colleague, with whom we’re working together, around this, so let me just say a few words about where ERIAC stands in this discussion. Of course, I think we’ll hear a little bit about this today, but this is also not news to you that Roma cultural heritage, and our culture in general, is at risk, and it has been conceptualised and developed and represented for centuries, through majority eyes and the eyes of others. It is only very recently really, that Romani scholars, artists, and now also curators and collectors are starting to reclaim a way of representing ourselves through institutions, and through practices, as well. But of course, the state of affairs at this stage is very difficult for the Roma cultural heritage, as it is represented or collected in majority public spaces, and remains invisible, remains inaccessible, and many times also misrepresented. And at the same time, as the Roma, we are claiming a space of leadership and our own voice – or voices, not only in these questions of knowledge production in academia, or whether also on the level of policymaking or politics, but we are also claiming the right to our own culture, and the right to self-representation and self-emancipation also, from those stigmas or ethics that have been somehow also coded into institutions and institutional practices. And this is also why the context of the Roma community is somehow often difficult to deal with, because we are a non-territorial nation, which doesn’t have a state, which doesn’t have ministries of education and culture, and where different types of structures can be quite original and without any other blueprints set into place, to create a space for us to interact across borders, across sub-identities, across languages. And it is around these topics that the project RomaMoMA has been born – maybe not even a project, because I think it’s so much more than that. It’s really an initiative and a state of mind, I will say here at ERIAC, and also hopefully for the OFF-Biennale colleagues. RomaMoMA is meant to be somehow a response to the problems that the Roma community are facing. But it’s also a response, to try to think of what role museums and institutions of culture in general can play. And in the context of the Covid pandemic, I think it’s even more timely to reflect upon how we can move beyond a very classical approach of museums, and cultural institutions in general. RomaMoMA is a platform that has facilitated discussion among Roma and non-Roma artists, curators, and art historians, scholars, and public intellectuals, that tries to envision and discuss the possible forms in which a Roma Museum of contemporary culture and art could somehow exist – if it exists, and how it could exist not only in space, but also in time, and how it could be performed. Over the years, together with the OFF-Biennale, and many of the colleagues present here, we have been searching for answers, and posing very relevant questions about Roma cultural heritage, and access to it, questions of ethics and morals, and also broader questions of how the peripheries speak back to the centre. What is a museum? Why do we need it? So, it is in this context that we have our discussion today, and a very timely one, and a very exciting one. So, maybe I will leave it here, and hand it over to Hajnalka, who will also say a few words of welcome.

Hajnalka Somogyi:

Thank you, Anna, so much. On behalf of OFF-Biennale, I also welcome you on this occasion of a special panel discussion. Thank you very much for joining us. And of course, thanks to Central European University Romani Studies Program for this cooperation. OFF-Biennale is not a Roma organisation. It is a small independent platform for contemporary art production and discourse that is founded and based here in Budapest, Hungary. Still, I think we share quite some policies with a lot of Roma cultural organisations. OFF-Biennale was established in response to a certain lack perceived by many in the local cultural scene, mainly the lack of an independent and democratic platform for critical thinking and action in the field of contemporary visual art, well not only in this field, that could be free from a party political agenda, and that could be visible beyond the immediate professional circles. So, we started working in 2014, and so far, we have presented three editions of the OFF-Biennale: in 2015, in 2017, and the third one that was entitled Inhale, that we just we closed yesterday. So, this is a great kind of closing event also for our biennale. Another feature that we might share with many Roma cultural organisations is organisational precarity. We operate without fixed employees, almost only on project money, zero infrastructure, and a very committed team in which volunteering still plays a large role. At the same time, we operate in a field, the field of contemporary art, that for many is equal to privilege, luxury and power. And indeed, despite its emancipatory calls and content, contemporary art remains far too often a defender of the local and global status quo, sometimes against its best intentions. And the problem is structural. So, if you want art to really side with the forces of positive change, we have to work on its infrastructure, its institutions, its protocols, its ecosystem. In them, we have to strengthen transparency, accessibility, equality and sustainability. This is why we do OFF-Biennale, and this is also why we co-initiated RomaMoMA together with ERIAC. Because, by our very modest means, we would like to contribute to this course of action, towards the establishment of, as Anna said, a truly relevant 21st-century institution for Roma contemporary art. So, this is not just a Roma question, this is not a Roma problem only; we have to work on it together. And we really hope that our experience in grassroots organising, in networking, in art production and in performing non-existent institutions can be of some help. So, with this, I would like to give the floor to our panellists today. Thank you.

Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka:

Thank you. I will be serving in my humble role of being a moderator for this discussion today. I would just like to also welcome our audience that is following us live on Facebook, and encourage you to also pose questions. We have colleagues who are looking at the comments section under the livestream. So, if there’s any audience member out there who has an urgent question, there will be around half an hour for the discussion later on with our panellists. Please do feel free to pose questions. Today we have four absolutely wonderful speakers. It is a fantastic portfolio and a very large place of experience and expertise into the topic of restitution that we’ll be engaging with. I will shortly introduce each of them, and then each one will have a short presentation, and then after that, we’ll get into a discussion, to reflect on some of the questions of today’s discussion. Our first panellist will be Daniel Baker. Daniel Baker is a Romani Gypsy artist, researcher and curator. He has contributed to numerous exhibitions, held various residencies, and curated several commissions. He previously worked as an exhibitor and consultant for the first and second Roma events at the international art exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, in Paradise Lost and Call the Witness, which took place during the 52nd and 54th art exhibitions respectively in Venice. In 2018, he was selected to curate the Roma collateral event of the 58th Biennale di Venezia, Futuroma. Daniel Baker’s work examines the role of art in the enactment of social agency through an eclectic practice that interrogates contemporary art discourse and its social implications via the reconfiguration of elements of Roma aesthetics. So, Dr Baker, the floor is yours.

Daniel Baker:

Thank you very much, Anna. Hello, everyone. It’s great to be here. I will present a powerpoint, so I will share my screen now. If anything needs addressing, perhaps you will let me know, and I will make adjustments. I will start with a couple of images of collections that I visited in the course of my art practice, and my research into Roma aesthetics, and my research into Gypsy visual culture, which has been ongoing for the past 20 or so years. First, we have an image here of a private collection, a place called the Romany Life Centre, run by a man called Henry Stanford in Kent in England. These are the things that he basically collected over a period of time. So, this is him kind of running this collection himself. There is also a set of buildings and barns, which hold other artefacts, but also vehicles and caravans and trailers in the grounds. It is quite an extensive collection, as you can see, quite chaotic in some ways. Here is another image of an artefact from that collection. The second picture that I will show you is from the State collection of Roma artworks at the Museum of Ethnography in Budapest. This I visited along with Tímea Junghaus, and a number of other artists that were exhibiting in the first Roma Pavilion (in Venice), and we had a tour of the area where they store their Roma collection, which is underground and out of sight of most visitors. Each type of collection has its advantages and its disadvantages, either private collection, or state collection. For example, private collections are often highly specialised, showing personal enthusiasm for the subject and offering increased accessibility to artefacts, and sometimes to their makers. But their precarious nature along with lack of expertise in conservation, archiving and documentation often mean that these collections are unstable, both in condition and in permanence. For example, the first collection I showed you, by Henry Stanford, is no longer in existence. I’m not quite sure what happened, maybe 10 years ago; either the owner had to move, or he could no longer accommodate the objects. Again, I am not sure what’s happened to those objects, so, they are in some way not accessible to us at the present time. State collections have their own set of issues, with conservation of artefacts being high priority to maintain the condition of the collection for the future. But often, these items are inaccessible to the public, resulting in works of cultural importance being divorced from their origins, thus breaking the connections between the agency of these objects and the communities that have generated them. This kind of appropriation of cultural capital is damaging not only to the connections between artefacts and communities, but also between institutions and the public. I will now show you an image of an artwork from the exhibition, Futuroma, which I curated, as Anna said, for the Venice Biennale in 2019, commissioned by ERIAC and supported by the Council of Europe. This work is by the Hungarian Roma artist, László Varga, and is titled Study of the Infinite. This intricate drawing places the idea of space and movement at its centre. The existential imperative of Liberty is taken forward here by offering the possibility of limitless space and infinite potential. These notions of liberation, of freedom, and conversely, their restrictions, were highlighted through the inclusion of this work in the exhibition, whose actual presence I was not able to secure for display from the Museum of Ethnography in Budapest, an institution which, as I pointed out, holds extensive collections of important works by Roma artists in its underground storage facility, closed to public view. In place of Varga’s drawing, which as I said, we couldn’t get hold of, 1000 postcards were printed with the image on one side and information about the exhibition on the other. So the postcards were produced with this image in order to distribute and highlight questions regarding the liberation of Roma cultural capital, and to act as symbolic of wider emancipatory issues. The public could take away these postcards, and, thereby, distributing an image of the artwork, but also the sensibility and agency of the artwork into the wider world, which at present, the actual object was unable to do. I also used images of the artwork, the postcards of the artwork, on the cover of the Futuroma catalogue. Exploring the links between individual archives and state collections, between the traditional and the contemporary, and between domestic and professional artistic practices continues to underpin my work. These hierarchies of practice, collecting and dissemination can otherwise be thought of as emblematic of the relationship between the marginal and the elite. By looking into the often discriminatory relationship between marginal artistic practices and those that form the centre ground, we can find new ways of thinking about relationships between marginalised peoples and mainstream society. I will now show you some images from two shows that I curated. One in 2007, entitled No Gorgios, and our Futuroma in 2019. These were the flyers for both of those exhibitions: as I said, No Gorgios from 2007, and Futuroma from 2019. And I will show you images from both of those exhibitions for the rest of my talk. The object is where artist, subject and audience meet, and therefore where meaning is shaped and exchanged. Important works generate a variety of meanings, each dependent upon the context in which they are presented. Within this understanding of the work of art, the potential outcomes are manifold, as are the various roles that art can be seen to perform. At the heart of my interest is a preoccupation with the role of art in affecting change. One of the ways that art can affect change is by showing us the value of that which is overlooked. When we are encouraged to look again at such objects and ideas, we look again at the people that have generated them. In this way, the artwork acts as an extension of the artist, a proxy if you will, which in turn acts as an extension of their community. By re-evaluating such objects, we are motivated to re-value their makers and, therefore, the culture from which they emerge. This repositioning of artworks, people and communities is crucial in encouraging us to build futures in our own image, whilst at the same time allowing us to re-examine our collective past. In both No Gorgios and Futuroma, each artwork was chosen for its ability to convey meaning, rather than the reputation of the artist. The variety of practice moves from traditional domestic activities, such as needlework and plant propagation, to the digital disciplines of photography, filmmaking and performance, installation, ceramics, painting, drawing and collage. Each artwork populates a broad cross-section of activity from the domestic to the academic, and from the professionally trained to the self-taught. This unification of domestic artistic practice to contemporary art modes of making allows us to uncover new connections across both fields, whilst offering greater insight into the meanings and implications that they carry for broader ways of thinking about the categorisation of objects and their significance. By engaging in creative acts, these artists interrupt expectation to push towards new insights. The main aim is to highlight the potential of a Roma artistic practice and its consequent visibilities to interrupt prejudice and make way for new narratives. Art and life remain closely linked within Roma society, as is apparent in the way that community and domestic artistic practice has formed the foundation of what is now the international Romani art phenomenon. Without these practices, there would be little to distinguish the new wave of art production by Roma that has emerged over recent decades. Preoccupation with family, community, identity and the struggle for belonging, are common themes within the work. The methods, media and outcomes may differ, but they remain part of a continuum of innovative artistic practice which reaches back into our past and continues to inform our future. The innovation evident within Roma creativity reflects a pragmatism born of a history of marginalisation: life at the edge of society has shaped the Roma’s understanding of the value of adaptability and transition. Contingent qualities have continued to inform Roma life, and to produce a set of values that are routinely played out through visual and sensory markers. Consequently, it strikes me that many art practices by Roma seem to be social rather than socially engaged, arising as they do from an aesthetic imperative born of the material and performative necessities of survival founded in the historic and ongoing existential urgencies of the Roma experience. This alternative perspective points to a rethinking of the role of artistic practice, one that conceives art as embedded within the social, rather than demanding that the social be engaged with art. This way of thinking questions the widespread separation between everyday life and art, thereby challenging established hegemonies of artistic practice, to position us all as artists, and equally none of us: a way of thinking which draws into sharp focus the ways in which much of our historic artistic output as a community remains inaccessible to us. Resistance remains a recurring element across Roma art practice and the Roma aesthetic, producing artworks that operate as arbiters of visibility, recognition and equality. Many of the works combine visual and material signifiers to produce resistant objects, which at once occupy the realms of the domestic, the communal, and the political. This co-dependence between the social and the artistic is where the boundaries between life and art disappear to show a direct relationship between cultural visibility and social agency for Roma. By interrupting the expectation of the viewer, these and objects like them resist preconception and challenge the prejudgement that often follows. They enact resistance not through overtly political acts, but through subtler and perhaps more compelling means. These creative processes facilitate the interrogation and reinterpretation of experience, and the resulting outcomes can be pivotal in promoting dialogue across diverse groups, but the impact of those outcomes is dependent upon the different frameworks in which they are experienced. Museums now emulate elements of the Roma experience through initiatives, such as community outreach and participation, both of which echo the kind of community involvement which has long been part of Romani artistic practice. Just as these institutions are now looking to minority groups and communities for fresh approaches to collecting and dissemination, so we as Roma, need to influence these establishments in a meaningful and impactful way, to highlight the inequality evidenced by the widespread excision of Roma histories from state narratives, and in so doing, enact the potential for such histories to be challenged and to be reset. Thank you very much, and I’ll end my presentation there.

Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka:

Thank you, Daniel, so much for a very engaging presentation that helps to illustrate your points very well. Thank you for this contribution. Next up, we have Anna Lujza Szász, who is a sociologist, currently teaching at Budapest Corvinus University. Her PhD thesis, “Memory Emancipated”, explored the memory of the Nazi genocide of the Roma. Her research interests are contemporary art and memory politics. She is also the project manager of the OFF-Biennale Budapest RomaMoMA section. Anna, the floor is yours.

Anna Lujza Szász:

Thank you, Anna. Hi everyone. Thank you for the invitation. I actually feel like I have more to learn than to share with you here, but I will try to do my best. I have to mention my other affiliation, as well, which is that I’m a co-curator for projects within RomaMoMA [at OFF-Biennale], called Collectively Carried Out, which focuses on Tamas Péli’s monumental panel painting, entitled Birth. And this is the case study which I will use for this presentation. The other curators whom I should mention, because they play a very important part in this presentation, as well as in the whole work, are Eszter György and Teri Szűcs. We do this work together. I think I need to share my screen (as if Covid didn’t happen). So, I would like to start by recalling a discussion which I recently had with Teri Szűcs, about the idea, or concept of a Roma museum, and how this utopian concept had been shifting towards a much more real manifestation of space and place, and how we are talking about realisation of a Roma Museum instead of a utopia. And then, I kept thinking about this idea of utopia, and I found this, accidentally I came across this quotation from Slavoj Žižek, which I would like to share with you. We can read it together. That’s easier. I think it’s very accurate and topical, and also helps us, or actually helps me, understand the importance of the Roma museum:

Think about the strangeness of today’s situation! Thirty, forty years ago, we were still debating about what the future will be: communist, fascist, capitalist, whatever. Today, nobody even debates these issues. We all silently accept that global capitalism is here to stay. On the other hand, we are obsessed with cosmic catastrophes. The whole life on earth is disintegrating because of some virus, because of an asteroid hitting the Earth, and so on. So, the paradox is that it is much easier to imagine the end of all life on Earth, than a much more modest, radical change in capitalism. Which means that we should reinvent utopia, but in what sense? There are two false meanings of utopia: one is this old notion of imagining an ideal society which, we know, will never be realised. The other is the capitalist utopia in the sense of new and new perverse desires that you are not only allowed, but even solicited to realise. The true utopia is when the situation is so without issue, without the way to resolve it within the coordinates of the possible, that out of the pure urge of survival you have to invent a new space. Utopia is not a kind of a free imagination; utopia is a matter of innermost urgency. You are forced to imagine it as the only way out. And this is what we need today. [Slavoj Žižek’s lecture at the University of Buenos Aires]

I think this is what we need today, also in the context of a Roma museum. Utopia stands from this urgency, this nowness of the moment to take responsibility. Utopia is not just the work of imagination, but also the manifestation of that work. There was this Congolese activist in the news in the past few months, you might have heard about him. His name is Mwazulu Diyabanza, who was arrested for taking a ceremonial library spear from its display from the Museum of African, Oceanic and Native American Arts in Marseille in July 2020. Then in September, he visited the African Museum in the Netherlands, where he picked up a Congolese statue. In October, he attempted to take funeral objects from a museum in France, which he even livestreamed, so the point was not to commit an actual robbery, but to raise attention. So, in October, he attempted to take it. He was arrested, and there was a ruling against Diyabanza. Shortly afterwards, the French National Assembly approved the landmark repatriation of 27 artefacts back to Benin and Senegal by 2021. Diyabanza, at that moment, said it was an insult: it is African countries who should decide the timing of the restitution. And this is my first point which I would like to raise, or to emphasise timing. The above-mentioned innermost urgency has to come from all those communities and nations which were looted and whose artefacts and cultural heritage was taken away. The art industry has to accommodate itself to this need, not only on the level of discussion and discourse, because those can sometimes be only lip service, but also on the level of taking action. Now I would like to talk a little bit about the exhibition we are working on now. And also to share with you the lessons we learned throughout the work of these two years, and how these lessons fit into the discourse of decolonisation and restitution. Before I start this, I would like to just show you one of the portraits of Tamas Péli, who died in 1994, and his painting is the focus, or is the origo at the centrepoint of our work. He was a Roma, Hungarian, European artist, and he painted in 1983 the monumental panel entitled Birth. There is also a quotation from Péli, which I think guides us through this work and provides all the guidelines for how it, and artworks in general, should be treated right after they are born and they are becoming part of the society. Let me share this quotation with you:

The closer I got to finishing the painting, to the day of its unveiling, the more intense the contractions became. I felt what a woman in labour feels: pain and joy. I felt what a woman feels who gives birth to her child and then has to abandon them. It was taken from me, it was not mine anymore. I had to let it go. After I painted it, the work had to grow up. The world, which receives a work, has to nurture it, care for it, pay attention to it, talk to it, and talk about it. This painting, this child, has to be enrolled into university. When we separated, I believed that I was handing it over to carers – I am thinking of society – who would look after it. That small community, which owns this painting, are mature enough for this role. I am talking about the City of Children in Tiszadób. They have the ability to protect and love it. They are aware of its meanings.

Now I am showing you the whole panel. That’s Birth. A few words about the context of Birth. This is painted on fibreboard. It is nearly 41 square metres, completed in 1983 by Tamas Péli and his students. Birth was installed on the wall of the refectory of a children’s home in a mansion in Tiszadób, also known as the “City of Children”. That’s in the eastern part of Hungary. When the mansion was turned into a hotel in 2011, then the monumental panel was removed and hauled in four pieces to a museum in Nyíregyháza. It was stored in the museum’s corridor – covered and safe, but unseen. A collaboration between OFF-Biennale, ERIAC, and the Budapest History Museum is realised, and the purpose of this exhibition, which is going to open on 8 June actually, and entitled Collectively Carried Out, is more than rendering the painting visible. The goal is to introduce the painting into the collective public space generated by discussions and interpretations. Péli’s Birth panel arranges the figures of several grand narratives into a single composition. The centrepiece is an imagined invented Roma creation myth, surrounded on the one hand by episodes recounted through symbolic figures of Hungarian Roma history, and on the other hand by figures of a new genesis, the emerging Hungarian Roma intelligentsia. In this triple birth – of people, historical narrative, and through its creators, a culture is brought to life, and the point of intersection in the manifestation of this triple genesis is Péli’s monumental piece. Birth is also a collective act, in which the Hungarian historical narrative, a community in its broadest sense, is created and reborn. Roma and Hungarian historical narratives interwoven so they assume one another. Hence, this work, Birth, with all its various layers and morals, will be collectively carried out. I would like to share with you some other photos. This is the moment when the panel was removed from the orphanage in Tiszadób, and it was taken to the museum corridor. You can see that it was made out of four huge panels. And then, that was the day when basically, not only did these four panels arrive to Budapest, to the Budapest History Museum, but they were also unwrapped, uncovered. And these panels are now introduced to those who do the restoration work. It is not a complete restoration, only a cleaning of the four panels before they are installed in this space that you can see. There will be an installation built around the panel. And that’s one of those sacred moments, when the person who does the restoration is focusing on one of the panels, one of the parts of the panel, and doing the restoration work. So, the lessons we learned, I would like to share with you: restitution or decolonisation is important, because access to cultural artefacts has to be provided and granted for the people, especially for the Roma communities. So, I’m talking about the Hungarian context here: between 1979 and 2005, more than 4000 artworks of this community were brought by seven collections in the country […]. Yet today, there is not a single permanent exhibition, where Roma art could be accessed, researched or viewed. Recently, there are some new and irreplaceable losses, for instance, the closure of the Roma Parliament in 2016, which had a huge collection of Roma art. This collection is now stored under horrible conditions in the cellar of the Roma Parliament. Also, by contrast, the collections of the Hungarian National Roma Autonomous Government and the Budapest Roma Cultural Education Centre have digitised their collections, but they are not accessible to the public. The closing of Gallery Eight, which Angela mentioned in the beginning, in her introduction, is also very regrettable. Since 2018, there is no contemporary Roma art space in Budapest, and those artists who are willing to rewrite artistic traditions in a subversive manner are rather making exhibitions abroad. Then my second point is that these artefacts need to be recontextualised, reinterpreted. Until the second half of the twentieth century, the representation of the Roma was the exclusive monopoly of non-Roma artists. And as a consequence, Roma music was labelled as folk music. Roma art was labelled as folk art, mostly interpreted by ethnographers. So, Roma artefacts, cultural treasures, were interpreted as being not works of individual authors, but rather as collective effects of nature, which only gain significance by the work of the collector or the folklorist. This is the context that should be deconstructed. The steps we make during this exhibition is that on the one hand, the whole exhibition is part of the OFF-Biennale, which is a contemporary art event. Also, we invited art historians to reinterpret, to recontextualise, to create texts from an art historical point of view, to put this painting into a framework, which is interpreted by art historians and not by ethnographers. The exhibition venue will be in the Budapest History Museum, which is not an ethnography museum, nor an art museum, but a museum which offers several possibilities – possibilities for several narratives, such as: a historical narrative, a sociological narrative, and an art historical narrative. These narratives can enrich the understanding of the layers of this painting. And finally, in terms of the recontextualization, we organised round-table discussions, in which we would like to explore the various interpretations and understandings of this painting. My third point is that the restitution should focus on visual art, because this is the medium that is at the heart of decolonial struggle. It is inherently political. Roma visual art is a site for articulating resistance, and also a creative praxis against erasure, and for self-representation. My fourth point is the sense of collectivity, or the strengthening of collectivity. This whole restitution process, or decolonialisation, should happen in a collective way. It is both a Hungarian and a Roma responsibility, and Birth teaches us to think in a collective way. Hungarian and Roma narratives assume each other, support one another, and there is a mutual responsibility, as I said, to take care of this panel painting – not only this panel, but to take care of all of the cultural heritage. And my last point is the return of these objects. The return to the community. What we wish to do throughout this exhibition is to find a final placement of this panel. Basically, to take it out forever from the museum’s corridor, and give it back to those who are concerned. Let it be a community or an institution, such as the Gandhi High School [in Pécs, southern Hungary, for Roma children], or there are many options. There is a lot at stake because there are other, in some ways, more powerful actors, who wish to claim Péli’s panel and Péli’s legacy as their own concern, and wish to make decisions in the name of Roma, but without the Roma. So, it is time for restitution, and we hope it might begin with the monumental panel of Péli. Thank you very much for your attention.

Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka:

Thank you, Anna for an excellent presentation, and thank you also for bringing in this really extraordinary example of Birth and the politics behind it, because it is also very important to talk about that. Thank you so much.


[Part 2 continues next week with the presentations of Maria Lind and Nanette Snoep, and the final discussion.]


Many thanks to ERIAC intern Bratislav Mitrović for his devoted work on transcribing the recording.


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