THE RESTITUTION OF ROMANI ARTWORKS AND ARTEFACTS PANEL DISCUSSION – TRANSCRIPT Part II
The IIP team visit the storage vaults of the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum in Cologne. The International Inventories Programme is an international research and database project investigating a collection of Kenyan objects held in cultural institutions across the globe. See: https://www.thisisthenest.com/iip and: https://www.inventoriesprogramme.org/exhibition
Two weeks ago, 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.
Last week, we posted Part 1 of the transcript.
Today we post Part 2 of the transcript.[i]
The panel was introduced by Angela Kocze, 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 2 includes presentations by Maria Lind (S/RU) and Nanette Snoep (NL/D), with responses to such questions as:
What kinds of institutions could exhibit Romani artefacts and artworks in an ethical way?
Has the time finally arrived to restitute Romani artworks and artefacts?
As our next speaker, we have Maria Lind, who is a curator, a critic, and an educator. She was the Director of Stockholm Tensta Konsthall between 2011 and 2018, and the Artistic Director of the 11th Gwangju Biennale. She was Director of the Graduate Program at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, and Director of IASPIS in Stockholm between 2005 and 2007. In 2020, she was appointed Counsel of Culture at the Embassy of Sweden in Moscow, where she is currently based. Maria, thank you so much for joining us, in between so many different activities and responsibilities. We are very happy to have you here with us. The floor is yours.
I am always honoured to be invited to contribute to the events that ERIAC is involved with. I would like to talk about a project that ERIAC knows very well, as well as those of you who were hanging out around Gallery Eight in Budapest, some six or seven years ago. It is connected to the literary legacy of the Swedish Roma writer and activist, Katarina Taikon. Her series of children’s books, autobiographical, and centring around the figure of Katitzi.
As a bit of background, in 1969, the first Katitzi book was published in Swedish, and you can see it on the left in this image. Autobiographical, for children, written by Katarina Taikon. It was immediately well received, and a number of subsequent books followed. Now, here in Moscow, we have taken over the exhibition that was at Gallery Eight, and also at ERIAC in Berlin. And showing it in Moscow, accompanied by the first translation into Russian of the first Katitzi book, which you can see here on the right-hand side. Katarina Taikon, who was born in 1932 and passed away in 1995, can be called one of the best-kept secrets of Sweden so far. A figure of great importance of the post-war period, thanks to her writing, and thanks to her activism on behalf of the Roma community in Sweden. She was a brilliant figure, who really brought many discussions to the table, fighting for housing for the Roma, fighting for schooling, which still at the beginning of the 1960s in Sweden, was not granted – in a way, a big blind spot in the social welfare state, which thought of itself as being very democratic and equal. She was also one of the people who pioneered discussing the Roma Holocaust in the context of Sweden.
Eventually, she turned to writing children’s books, somewhat disappointed in the results of her activism. And those 13 autobiographical books were extremely successful. This, we can learn in the 2012 biography about Katarina Taikon, written by Lawen Mohtadi, a journalist and writer, who not only researched Katarina Taikon’s life, but also the history of the Roma in Sweden, as well as the particular activist legacy, and the political context of Sweden in the 1960s, in which Katarina Taikon was so engaged. This book has now also been translated into Russian. And those of you who prefer reading English, here is the English translation both of the first Katitzi book, and of the biography, which was published in conjunction with the exhibition at ERIAC that was in 2019, at the conclusion. The exhibition here in Moscow is staged at the Central [Russian State] Children’s Library, which is the biggest library in the world for children in terms of size. At the heart of the library, we have an exhibition, where we look at the literary character of Katitzi. We follow her – here is a slide of the daughter of Katarina Taikon, Angelica Ström, who joined us on zoom at the opening. We had planned a big programme for her in Moscow, but due to the pandemic, she could not arrive. But it was wonderful to have her with us in this form, anyway. So, looking at Katitizi is very much about celebrating a figure, a literary figure, as well as the woman behind it.
Thinking about this was not only something that raised consciousness in relation to Roma issues, which is in and of itself extremely important, it was also pioneering a new genre of children’s literature: a more realistic way of writing children’s books, and also moving therefore away from the more idealistic and sweet representations of the lives of children from before. In the exhibition, we have the original drawings by Björn Hedlund, an artist with whom Katarina Taikon worked very closely. These are from the first book, and they tell the story of how Katarina was given away by her father when she was just a couple of years old, after her mother passed away when she was around one year old. She lived in a foster home, and eventually in an orphanage in the north of Sweden. We follow her life at the orphanage until the point when her father Johan, or Ishvan, Taikon decides to take her back to the family, and she can live with her three older siblings: Rosa, whom some of you probably know as silversmith Rosa Taikon, Paul and Lena, and we follow the life of the family, as they travel around in the north of Sweden. They were not allowed to live for longer than three months in one place, and they earned a living through having a fun fair, primarily where the different family members joined in to play in an orchestra, for example. The return to the family is accompanied by these dynamic illustrations, where you can follow the life of the family, including depicting interiors of the tents, etc.
Here we have a selection of the books, the last one published in 1982, and they were a tremendous success in Sweden. New additions were regularly printed, and they were borrowed thousands of times, from public libraries. My generation, and several generations after mine, really grew up with Katitzi by our side. The ingenious thing with the books is that Katitzi grows slightly older for every book, just as we, the readers, were growing older. The last book differs from the previous 12, in terms of the cover. Here, we have a photograph of young Katarina Taikon; the final book ends when she’s 16-years-old, and she takes matters into her own hands in the sense of choosing her own life. She had been married off at the age of 14, she ran away, and then actually found herself a job and started a more self-determined life. So, this is the conclusion of the series. Just some of the original covers for the books.
As a sign of this tremendous success, we included the comic books that were developed based on the 13 books. It was so popular that a commercial publishing company found it relevant to even make a copy – and translations: soon after the first book was published, the first translations came into the other Nordic languages, eventually into German, and French and Italian. And then after the expansion of the European Union in the early 2000s, the first book was translated into Slovak, into Romanian, etc., countries with large Roma communities, as you very well know. On the right, the first Romani translation made by Katarina Taikon’s relative, Hans Caldaras, which actually also exists as an audiobook. Swedish television made a series based on the book for children, which was also edited to function as a feature film in the cinema, and it was shown as such in the early 1980s.
So, with this, I want to underline that we have artefacts, for sure, in museums, but we also have less material legacies, like literature, and the Katitzi series of books is a unique contribution to the history of Swedish literature and beyond. I think it is only now that it is possible to appreciate the entirety and the impact of what Katarina Taikon did, literarily speaking, in addition to her very important contribution to the life of Roma through her policy work. One could actually say that, without her work, which she did with friends, and not least her sister, Rosa, contributed to the fact that in the year 2000, the Roma were proclaimed one of five national minorities in Sweden. I would very much like to agree with the previous speaker in the sense that it’s the timing issue, which can be played to our advantage here. I would propose that we start with some of the great ideas that have been proposed very soon, with RomaMoMA, which is a dear project to me. With the dispersed institution, let’s say, let’s begin very soon. It’s better to start in one place, maybe small – and at the same time, think and discuss what we’re doing; instead of waiting, and thinking and discussing, and then starting. I believe very much in this parallel situation of doing and thinking at the same time. I would propose that one interesting route could be to actually lobby the National Museums of Sweden, as well as the Ministry of Culture and the Council of Culture, the state authorities funding culture and being responsible for museums, to argue that it is about time for this national minority to be properly represented in national museums. Just like the Sámi minority, which has its own section, for instance, at the big ethnographic museum, called the Nordic Museum in Stockholm.
Thank you, Maria, so much. I always enjoy listening about Katitzi, because I think it is a shame to say that I also discovered Katitzi thanks to you because, unfortunately, it was not as popular and well known in my country as I was growing up. So, this is really, truly fantastic and thank you, also, for pointing to us the interconnectedness between the arts, but also the politics and ultimately, social justice. And I think that our discussion is very much embedded in exactly this frame.
Our last speaker today is Nanette Snoep. We have the great pleasure of having you here with us, Nanette. I wanted to make sure you can hear us, and you’re here. Yes, fantastic. Let me just briefly introduce Nanette to you. She is a Dutch anthropologist and a curator. Since January 2019, she is Director of the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum – Kulturen der Welt, the ethnological collection in Cologne, Germany. Prior to that, she was working, since 2016, as the head of various ethnographic museums in Germany, after being curator at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris for a long period of time. In her exhibitions, she disrupts the way ethnographic collections are presented, not hesitating to propose themes that challenge the established knowledge associated with the conception of projects for new audiences (from the alternative scene, migrants, artists). She also taught African Art History and has curated international exhibitions. In addition, Nanette actively participates in contemporary debates on the restitution of museal collections acquired during the colonisation in Germany and in France. Nanette, thank you really so much for joining us. I think that this whole discussion that we had here really builds towards this moment in the debate where we really need to reflect on how this specific case of the Roma is actually embedded in a broader struggle for, not only racial justice, but also the broader struggle of the colonisation. And I wonder if you could maybe provide us with a brief overview of the restitution debates, and the processes concerning restitution of artefacts and human remains from the global south, which, as we all know, tends to be rather contentious, with often quite heated discussions, and you have worked so much in this field. Would you maybe walk us a little bit through this situation where we are today?
Okay, Anna. Thank you very much for your introduction. I will try to make a short overview. At first, I would also like to say that we actually have an exhibition, RESIST! The Art of Resistance, at the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum in Cologne. This is an exhibition of some 500 years of anti-colonial resistance. And in this context, we are now collaborating together with ERIAC and Tímea Junghaus, who curated an autonomous space inside this exhibition, which is actually about anti-colonial resistance in the global south. We thought it was very interesting to make comparisons with resistance from the Roma community, here in Europe. So, let me try to make a short overview of the debates about ethnological collections.
As Anna already said, I’m a Dutch curator, and I started my career in Paris in 1995. At first, at the Museum of Mankind, a typical ethnological museum. And then I worked for this very new national museum, which is actually the counterpart of the Humboldt Forum, let’s say, with the same debates and the same polemics, but only this museum has been inaugurated in 2006. So, what was going on in the 1990s, because I have the feeling it is important to understand the 90s in order to understand what is happening now. And perhaps also, this could give some keys to the debates of restitution of Roma visual arts, Roma archives, and also Roma ancestral remains, which are in museums throughout Europe. So, in the 90s, when I started as a young curator, there started really the first serious critique of ethnological museums. But where the difference is between the 90s and today, is that there was no critique on the right to self-presentation. And the debate was mainly held by white museum curators, and communities in the diaspora, e.g., the African diaspora in Europe, or African museums, were absolutely not included. I don’t say that now they are very included in the current debate, but it is still a little bit more than comparing to the 90s, or let’s say between 2000 and 2015.
So, we spoke a lot about colonial history, but also about the absence of history in ethnographic museums. So, here we spoke about the idea of the “ethnographic present” – that there is no idea of time in space in ethnographic museums. So, this period in the 90s: at the same time in Europe, you had this debate, but at the same time in other countries, it was much more interesting, and I would refer to the debates in North America, in Canada, in Australia, and in, for example, New Zealand, where communities are on the soil of the colonised. So, here you have the first debate in the 90s, about the repatriation of ancestral remains, and the founding of a number of community museums, and even step-by-step, more pressure on, let’s say, white ethnographic museums. So, let’s mention, for example, Te Papa [Tongarewa] Museum [Te Papa means “Our Place”] in Wellington, New Zealand, founded in 1998. And here, what is very interesting is that this was, for the first time, that they rebuilt actually the [National] Museum, but they rebuilt also the staff. So, the staff had a lot of representatives of the Maori local community in New Zealand. But it was also very interesting, that it was not only the new idea of a museum, but a huge department was in charge of the restitution, for example, of ancestral remains and of the arts, the artefacts. So, I think the idea of the museum and this department, this was thought out together, and that’s why the Maori community organised such a lot of repatriation – massive repatriations until now, and it was a really diverse staff. So, this is something new in the history of the ethnographic museum landscape, this Te Papa Museum in Wellington.
You also have the American Indian Museum in the Smithsonian, which has been reopened in 2004. Also, at the same time, a new museum with a new staff, with a real participation of indigenous communities, but also here one of the very important topics of the National Museum of the American Indian was also here the repatriation of ancestral remains or sacred objects. That is why there is one act which is very important in the history of restitution, that is the NAGPRA, i.e., the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. And this act gave the power to indigenous communities to reclaim for restitution, and to use sacred objects. But it also obligated American, North American museums to give access to local communities and to provide a database of American Indian artefacts and ancestral remains. This act, this Nagpra act, is still very important and had an impact, also, on European museums, and I will come back to this later. And then, last but not least, because you see here the difference between, e.g., the Museum of the American Indian, which was founded, or re-thought in 2004 – there is a very big difference with another museum in North America, that is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, that was inaugurated in 2016. It’s a little bit different: also a database, also the idea of centralising a unit for African American History, and at the same time, and this is the difference with the National Museum of the American Indian, which was opened 10 years earlier, that for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, this has been thought of as serving the black American communities, while the National Museum of the American Indian has been thought of and structured actually for white Americans first, and then for the American Indians. So, here you see the paradigm shift, since, let’s say, 2015. So, this for us, for European museums, and for me as a director, are very, very important steps in the battle for self-determination, self-representation, and restitution, which is part of the struggle. And as a director, I am just here: my function as a museum director is just a door-opener, a kind of facilitator. I try to open the doors.
So, let’s come back to what’s happening now, because we are speaking today about restitution. And I heard, you spoke about, e.g., the activist, Diyabanza, which came to the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, and then in the Netherlands, and now with the Humboldt Forum, the restitution of the Benin bronzes. Here you see, actually, since 2015, there is such a lot of pressure from local communities, of diaspora communities and postcolonial groups throughout Europe, and alliances between those different groups, that museums, if I am really frank, I don’t really think that directors really change their minds, but I think there is such a lot of pressure that they are obliged to open the doors, and they have to start restitution and to reinvent the idea of ownership. So this is, e.g., in Germany, you have then these big discussions with the French President, Macron, who invited Felwine Sarr, the Senegalese intellectual. I will start with Felwine Sarr, because every time in Europe, we start first with the French historian, Bénédicte Savoy, but the role of Felwine Sarr was very, very important, so that is why I will speak first about Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy wrote this very, very important report about the necessity for restitution of African artefacts from French collections. And why do I speak about that – because it has, of course, an impact, in France, but it has even more, a huge impact on German museums. Because after that, there became a kind of competition between European countries: who is the best in decolonising its museums. So, there is a kind of competition at the moment, and I would say, you have to use this in order to find solutions for restitution. So, after Macron, you had also this debate in Germany, with the pressure of groups, let’s say, Berlin PostKolonial or the group No Humboldt. So, this led to this big pressure of communities, every day in all the cities, which actually obliged museums, but also German politics, French politics, but also in the Netherlands, to take concrete steps in restitution.
Then you see, at the same time, when you have these debates on European soil, you have other, new museums on the African continent, much stronger networks on the African continent. I will just give some examples, e.g., in Senegal a new museum about black civilisation, which is a very important museum, and which is, of course, from the French-speaking African countries. You have to imagine, in Africa, because of linguistics, and perhaps this could be interesting for you, I have no idea, but it is very interesting that there are really different groups in Africa, between the French-, the English-, the Portuguese-, and the Spanish-speaking countries. And the connections between those countries are quite complicated, but now this is also improving. So, you have, at the moment now, this new age of museums: of West African art in Nigeria – and that is why Germany is willing to restitute its Benin bronzes from the Benin Kingdom in Nigeria in 2022. And this is a real revolution in the debates of restitution, because the Benin bronzes are, let’s say, the Rembrandts, or the Velasquez, from the ethnographic museum – the most expensive artworks which are held in ethnographic museums. So, here is also a new museum, and strong networks and strong boards from Nigeria. The same thing in Ghana. Also, local initiative is very important – the person – woman, activist, intellectual – her name is Nana Oforiatta Ayim. She curated the Ghana Pavilion for the last Venice Biennale, and she founded the Institute of Arts and Knowledge in Ghana. She is a very strong voice. She has made this project about the mobile museum. And then there is the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, the MOCA in Cape Town, South Africa, which is also led by a woman director, which is very interesting: all these women on the African continent who are fighting for restitution.
And then the very last project, which has a link to us, because on Friday, we opened here a last small exhibition, called Invisible Inventories. The initiative for the project comes from Kenyan artists, the Nest Collective in Nairobi, and they created a huge database. So there is a small difference, but you know this much better than I do. But I have the feeling there is a difference from the Roma Archive, because the initiative came from Kenyan artists, and they are making a very systematic database of more than 32,000 artefacts from Kenya, in European and North American museums, with the help of the Goethe-Institut and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And parallel to this database, they asked me, e.g., and another museum in Frankfurt, if people are willing to host an exhibition. They created an exhibition about this database and the idea of axis, epistemic violence, and so on; I have the feeling that this invisible IIP project, that’s the name, could be very interesting and inspiring for you, because I have the feeling that this was a very good kind of “trickster” project, in order to create the database. Institutions are supporting, but the creator remains the master of their own database, and then you know everything, and you can make your own museum or your own exhibition, albeit, at first, by an institution. But this has all been made with the purpose of asking for restitution. So, this is what I wanted to say, in this small overview of what is happening now in the debates, and perhaps what could help for your own restitution.
Thank you, Nanette. You have been very humble in also saying what an important role you’ve actually played in bringing this discourse, and also very specific solutions in terms of practice, on an institutional level, and also in the context of the Benin bronzes return, which is definitely a very important development also for us. I would also like to invite the other panellists who are here to also turn on your cameras. I wanted to direct a few questions to build on what Nanette has said. First, Nanette, I would just like to ask you, because, of course, there needs to be an unravelling alliance-building across Roma and the other peripheries, and the global south as the colonised, for us a paradigmatic community, really, because we also tend to see ourselves as the colonised people of Europe. I wonder if you could maybe, based on your experience, also tell us a little bit how you see commonalities and differences between the cases of the global south, the diverse communities you have mentioned, and the case of the Roma? And also, if you were to imagine a kick-starting a campaign of restitution in the Roma context: would you have any tricks and tips for us that we should also keep in mind?
Yes, I can say just spontaneously. We had before this small conversation, and then you said also that for Roma, there is this trans-territorial aspect and diversity and I am not so sure. Perhaps I am not right, I have the feeling, I don’t know if, e.g., when we speak about the restitution of African artworks, of ancestral remains, that there is unity. You have a lot of diversity on the African continent. I spoke already about linguistics, politics, historical background specificities. And at the same time, you have the African diaspora in Europe, which is completely different, with different wishes, and so on. So actually, I see more commonalities than differences. But here, this is up to you to, to continue the discussion.
Maria spoke about the Sámi. Sámi, in Norway, and also the next Norwegian Pavilion will be a Sámi Pavilion. So, you see here, also, inside Europe, the debate is starting, so it’s the same thing as we have in our exhibition now: Resist! The Art of Resistance, which is actually about the global south. We see so many commonalities; this was a wonderful cooperation with Tímea. So, I think you must place more emphasis on the communalities than on the differences. I think it’s the perfect moment, to use the debates that are going on now, in order to speak about restitution, and really to make a European focus. And I would say, I have the feeling that the project of the Invisible Inventories Project from Kenya, which can be improved, there are a lot of things which are very difficult, and perhaps, but I cannot say that on the screen, I can speak more freely. But I think this was very interesting because it was an initiative of Kenyan artists, which really wanted to stay autonomous, and they made this really pragmatic database. The Roma archive database is very large; the Invisible Inventories Project database is really just to locate every single artefact or visual artwork, or whatever, which is in European museums. The fact that it was founded by the Goethe-Institut, that, e.g., my museum was supporting it, made it difficult for other museums to say, no, we won’t give this access. And I think this is the most crucial thing. Then starting from a database immediately to make small steps, which was already pointed out. And to occupy spaces in existing museums, I would say. And then the RomaMoMA parallel. But I think you really have to also enter art museums, but also ethnographic museums. Even if it’s gross, as Tímea said – that it was a museum of the devil, which she said a couple of weeks ago.
Thank you, Nanette. I would also like to bring in here Maria, Anna and Daniel. I think it’s really important, as you were working together on RomaMoMA, as a space for us to imagine in the future. I wonder, of course, restitution requires a structure of institutions and spaces too, which the restitution can actually arrive to. We’ve been discussing many different formats or different possibilities, but I would like to ask you about the reflection of how does the lack of space actually, lack of space which is owned by Roma, which is led by Roma, which has a really complete control over the narrative, as well? How does this reflect in the restitution process, if we imagined it in the context of Roma culture? And whether such space should actually be somehow a first step in the agenda for us to start? Daniel, would you like to go first?
Okay. Thank you, Anna. I wonder if something like a time-limited period, where we invite museums around the world to give us the inventory of Roma artefacts in their collection. Something like a year of the Roma Museum, which will affect the Roma audit – an audit of Roma artefacts within the museum, as I say, around the world, around Europe, and in a way that would hopefully encourage museums to become public about what they have, and also if they do not have anything, to be public about that. So, in that way, we could maybe inhabit the museums that currently have the work, rather than finding a space of our own, which, I think, is important. But meanwhile, if we, in a way, encourage or /shame – shame is the wrong word, but if we have this initiative, which is with great fanfare, saying it’s about celebrating the Roma experience and Roma culture, and we approach each museum and say, could you just tell us what you have, because that will add to our sense of our cultural capital, and they will be a part of that if they have materials that they are willing to record for us, and to share with us in a simple list. That, in a way, would locate these objects in their museum, and then in some way, the onus is on them to show us the works themselves. I think it could be seen as a kind of parasitic approach, but if all our artefacts are with other people, we need to find out where they are, get us to show them in a very celebratory way, in a sharing way – so you are a part of our heritage now. We can celebrate your ownership of these objects. Let’s elevate them. I think, maybe that’s a way of tapping the problem of space, but also ticking a few other boxes, as well, of getting people to kind of come clean about what they’ve got, and also, if they haven’t got anything, that’s another interesting point. So, maybe, they can make room for some of our heritage.
Thank you, Daniel. I would like to just to say that, if it is okay with you my dear panellists, would it be okay if we extend until 6:10, so that we can still get your comments to this very interesting discussion? Maria, please go ahead.
Yes, I would like to underline the importance of negotiating space soon, as you say, Daniel, in existing institutions. I am quite convinced that it is possible. This is, of course, what the RomaMoMA party is about. We could start by collaborating with, let’s say, five to seven institutions within Europe. Within a year, we would have one room in each of those museums, where things can start happening – whether it is directly connected to restitution or not. It can also be contemporary artists dealing with the question of restitution, so that we in different ways actually massage the topic. And we do it simultaneously on several fronts. So, I am repeating myself, but I would say, let’s start now.
Thank you, Maria. Anna?
Anna Lizi Szász
Well, I have to say that two years ago, I was on the side of saying that there is no need for a separate space. But you know, you can only change the policies of museums and change narratives and the staff and make them more inclusive, and that can be enough. But now I’m more in line with creating a new space. I think I’ve learned from Nanette’s presentation that all restitution basically ends with a space. It needs a space. A separate and autonomous space – as we can see in the African cases, etc. So, I think I’m rather supporting the idea of having a space for them. I don’t know where; I’m aware that Roma are transnational, non-territorial, so I have no idea where. But I like this idea of the mobile museum. I haven’t heard about it, Nanette, but I’m going to look at that. I can imagine something like a fixed storage space for the collection, and then there is this travelling museum, which somehow operates in Europe. Thank you.
Thank you, Anna. I think that from your comments, actually, it seems that it is not necessarily an either-or, but rather a question of, let’s do it all. And I think that such an agenda actually makes perfect sense. There is a number of questions that are still here in the chat. But I was wondering, if you don’t mind, if I can ask one question that kind of reverses the optic. We talked a lot about how we’re actually looking into all these restitution practices from other countries and other communities, as well. Because we see that, in many senses, they have been so much more advanced. In these debates, there is also the question of power, of history, of nations – and all of those happening, but in very different ways when we negotiate with institutions, and we try to undo the wrongs of the past. But I wonder, in the case of Roma restitution, which is so atypical and so unprecedented, I would say, are there things that, because of the fact that we are not limited by state institutions, that we don’t have one state particularly, and we are not even limited to one continent only, but our presence is rather global, is there an opportunity in the Roma coming up front with our process of restitution, which may be a kind of avantgarde, or maybe a quite more liberating experience just because of the fact that we are working from different spaces. I wonder, is there an opportunity for the societies at large – the global society, and also other minority struggles in putting the case of restitution towards Roma as this kind of globalised, non-territorial and very diverse community? Is there an opportunity that we could use as a base for other institutions or countries to really embrace this initiative?
I want to say, absolutely, it’s a great moment, and adding that we can also learn from how other institutions have been initiated – how they were born. It is quite rare that an institution is coming about fully fledged; it often starts with a small initiative. A film club and its screening programme over several years led to the Moderna Museet – the Modern Museum in Stockholm, in 1958. MoMA in New York, it was a really limited space at the beginning in the 1920s – until it steadily grew. I believe so much in that. And I would just like to add one more thing: now when all of you are here, and that is a reminder that we can also think about the Roma as something uniting Europe and Russia at a time when we sometimes struggle to find common denominators considering development, but this is actually a very concrete and very important unifying thread. I would like to encourage all of you to keep that in mind, and I would be more than happy during the three years I’m here to facilitate this.
Thank you, Maria. Nanette, what do you think?
The question was really a kind of brainstorming with you out loud, which is what is the opportunity that the case of decolonising Roma brings? If we could see this as an opportunity through the diversity, to translate the national character of our communities, the global character of our community, diaspora. Is there an opportunity for others in putting this case forward?
I actually pointed it out already. That’s why I really think that you have to take this very moment, this historic moment in time, and because public opinion is very open for it, there are such a lot of projects, that I think you have to take this and perhaps, as Anna pointed out before when she said, perhaps the mobile museum, but I think this idea of the database, I really think this is crucial, and the idea of creating a RomaMoMA, and at the same time, enter the existing institutions in order to make aware also the public opinion of the importance of a RomaMoMA.
Daniel, Anna? Do you have any final comments or additions to this?
Anna Lizi Szász
I would just like to shortly refer to one of the comments made by Marina Csikos and also join to your question. Marina Csikos in the chat, said that I’m using the Congolese example, and that it’s hard to connect it clearly to the Péli case. But I would like to just say that I’m using the debate, as you said: I’m using it as an opportunity to learn how restitution in the case of the Roma can be: it’s a learning process, and we have to place this discourse in the international dynamics of restitution. So, the Congolese example of the timing, I think it’s an important lesson that we can learn from. And I am a non-Roma. But what we learn from Peli’s Birth, his panel painting, is that Roma and non-Roma should work together: it is a mutual responsibility. We are, as one of my colleagues, curator said, is that we are door-openers. We are not doing the restitution, but we are also paving the path. The restitution should be done not by us, but with the support of us. This is what I wanted to say. Thank you.
I think that perhaps Roma are unique in being established – long-established – in many countries throughout Europe. So, I’m not sure how that model would be transferred. But I think we can do it, and something similar could happen to other peoples. But because of this fact that we have so many long-established footholds in many countries, I think us working with established museums, and encouraging them to work with us, is a good starting point, and I think something that could happen relatively quickly. Alongside the other initiatives, which have been discussed, like a space of our own, a mobile museum, our virtual inventory, I think they are all fantastic ideas. But I think if we can get the big guns on board, as well to do some of the heavy lifting in terms of locating these objects, and owning up to the possession of them, and celebrating with us their existence and their place in the world, I think that’s a good place to start.
Thank you, Daniel. And I think that with your comment, we will have to, unfortunately, conclude this afternoon’s conversation. It seems like we would really need much more time and opportunities to engage on this subject. So, thank you so much, Angéla, and CEU for providing this space. I hope this is one of the very many where we will have to the opportunity to engage with the broader public since most of us are actually working together already around RomaMoMA, so I would like to just here briefly advertise the RomaMoMA for those of you who are maybe fascinated and intrigued and want to learn more, there is a RomaMoMA page on the eriac.org, and you can see the RomaMoMA also unravelling in a beautiful way through a blog platform that allows very inspiring thoughts and reflections here from both Roma and non-Roma superstars of the cultural field. So, we are very happy to be hosting this space. And I would like to now first, thank you very much, all of the panellists – Anna, Maria, Nanette, Daniel – thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, your experience, and for your commitment also, to this unravelling project of Roma restitution. And also thank you so much, CEU and OFF-Biennale, for being partners in this initiative. I would like to thank you all again. And Angéla, I don’t know – do you have some final words for us today?
Just thanks for this really enlightening, enriching discussion. It was really, really great. And I would like to continue this discussion tomorrow for our conference. And I would like to encourage you to please register and participate and join us for this really interesting, Critical Romani Studies conference, online. Thanks again. Finito!
[i] With many thanks to ERIAC intern Bratislav Mitrović for his devoted work on transcribing the recording.
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