Take your blindfold off, dear Europe! BuveroEXPO Contemporary Audiovisual Performance organized by the Romedia Foundation
Between 17 and 18 October, 2014, an art show opened in Berlin, featuring works of young Roma media artists. The series of events, which deployed international artists and was linked with media installations and audiovisual performances, was realized by Romedia Foundation, with the generous support of Kulturstiftung des Bundes, at Gallery Kai Dikhas and TAK Theater im Aufbau Haus.
by Orsolya Fehér
Gallery Kai Dikhas, in Kreuzberg, a multicolored and developing part of Berlin, is the place where since 2010 contemporary Roma art is put on display, setting its context and organizing its critical reception while accomodating temporary exhibitions, contributing tremendously towards the emancipation of Roma culture. At 7 pm, on 17 October 2014, the audience, gathering for the opening, could observe young girls, in traditional Roma dresses, spread around the gallery. Three of them wore blindfolds decorated with traditional Roma motives. During the day, in parallel with the press conference, Romedia Foundation published a manifesto on its social media surfaces – a photo of the girls with the text „Take off your blindfold, dear Europe!”. Later that evening, during their performances among the media installations, the girls put the blindfolds on members of the audience, to make them part of some kind of a initiation ceremony, holding their hands and guiding them through a labyrinth.
The „girls” are the beneficiaries of the Romedia Foundation’s BUVERO project, a two-week media camp combining theoretical and practical training. The project, first implemented in 2013, with the main aim of empowering young Roma girls with the knowledge necessary to make their voices heard in the public sphere, increased in scope this year, with a new challenge added, thanks to the generous support of Kulturstiftung des Bundes. The goal set by BuveroEXPO was to situate the new and upcoming generations of Roma artists into an international context, choosing Berlin, Europe’s contemporary art capital, as location. The short films created in 2013 and in 2014 in Dunavarsány and Dunabogdány, Hungary, during the BUVERO camps, were showcased next to the works, presence, and performances of internationally acknowledged artists.
The event at Gallery Kai Dikhas opened on the evening of Friday, 17th October, with Ági Szalóki and Péter Boda singing, to receive the impressively large interested audience. The exhibition officially started with the speeches given by Moritz Pankok, director of Kai Dikhas Gallery, Katalin Bársony, curator of the project and Ágnes Daróczi, founder of Romedia Foundation.
The exhibiton was organized around a central, white partition: on one side of the wall short films, made during the camps, were screened, in a thematically diverse compilation. The Roma Holocaust, violence against women, remarkable episodes from the life of Roma communities, the anti-Roma actions in Miskolc, all served as subjects for the first-time filmmakers and their mentors. Works made by the international artists and the campaign videos of the foundation encircled this central partition, „making the bed” for the knowledge of the next generation. Vis-á-vis, one could find Sinziana Marin’s portrayal of the life journey of an exceptionally brave Romanian woman, the documentary by Roy Cohen on the Hong Kong demonstrations, reported shortly yet sensitively, while Damian Le Bas enticed the viewer with the portrait of the British Roma step dancer, Riley Smith. All around the gallery little monitors showed the campaign video of Romedia Foundation’s I’m a Roma Woman, the short, experimental documentary of Galya Stoyanova a self-reflection on identity and being observed in the mirror of acceptance, as well as the artistic film statement by André Raatzsch on the Berlin-based Roma artist collective, Sostar. In the display window of the gallery, with the help of a speaker, videos of Pablo Vega were shown: one of them featuring the road of memory, another displayed 4 Spanish Roma women through interviews about the difficulties of getting accepted and their breaking out – framing not only the space of the gallery and the street, but the well presented pieces and the diverse subjects of the exhibiton.
Hardly an hour after the opening, the girls, still in the traditional dresses, tempted the guests to the theatre, in the same building (Aufbau Haus). Their fellows were already waiting for them with a cheerful blat: as soon as the last visitor jammed in, the already crowded foreground of the theatre, a performance in many acts started, with Ági Szalóki and Péter Boda. The performance was organized around three separated, yet related, installations in the theatre space. The Labyrinth, where the girls guided the randomly chosen visitors from the crowd, blindfolded, offering to them – the ones arrived from faraway into the common world of Roma and non-Roma – stuffed cabbage, bodag, and white wine. The space of the Forest – the crew effectively built a forest – was designed as a collective of suspended trees deprived of their roots, their roots transformed into colourful ribbons. Their undergrowth was white textile, while digital frames clung onto their trunks and broadcasted, from every direction, the reality recorded by the girls. From the Labyrinth to the Forest, the girls guided us, then settling on the ground, listening to the voice of Ágnes Daróczi, who told a story. While Ágnes told the myth of origins „Once we were birds” in Romanes, we could hear the same story from the speakers, whispering in German. „Once we were birds, we flew from branch to branch, from country to country. Where the darkness found us, we slept, And at sunset we got on. Once we found a field where trees were rich in fruit, fields were rich in crops. We went down to the rich valley and had a feast. The night had come, but we stayed. The next day had come, and we stayed. And New Year had come, and we just stayed. And when the seven years of famine came, we could not leave. Our slim, long legs atrophied, Our spread, flying wings got heavy, Our claws became legs, Our wings became hands. That’s how we were sitting on the ground, instead of the light sky, and turned from birds into human” – the story went and the girls started to dance. As a closing chord of the performance, deploying traditional songs and dances, they danced around the third installation, the Talking Circle, then, turning towards the four compass points, as if murmuring a still reliable enchanment, they started to say over and over again the magic words of a single sentence: ”Áme dujzséné szám ámálá.” In the center point of the circled screening surface of Talking Circle there was a microphone: those who entered the circle were addressed by four different people, and they had to repeat after them the words of a friendship-vow: ”Áme dujzséné szám ámálá – the two of us we are friends.” But the screened image of the installation only went over to the next element (word), if the guest repeated the word before, the word that was offered by them and which were similar to the ones at the end of the performance. The audience could rightfully feel at the end of the well choreographed performace that they became part of a ritual, so no wonder that when the girls and the guest artists of BuveroEXPO, as a final act, dipped their feet into paint and started to dance on the white ground of the Forest, the audience joined inmediately and joyfully. Some of them put their hands, some of them their feet, into the different coloured paint: that’s how the Forest of belonging became the place for entertainment – while the white textile on the ground got covered in colourful footsteps. This fabric will be the material of the future BUVERO flag – as we decided later. The creators of the installations (Kristóf Asbót, Dávid Szauder and Katalin Bársony) were dancing in the middle.
The gesture of feeding, the interactive installations, the articulated yet elegantly light choreography, and the group exhibition could be mentioned as refernces to many parallels in the history of art and theatre, which could serve as the subject of a longer study. However, the most important statement is that thanks to the creativity of these young artists, with this two-day exhibiton and series of performances, the young Roma art got connected to the discourse of international contemporary art, while being able to stay faithful to its traditions. It is the role of this event not only to ensure its continuation with critical discourse, but to serve as a new example for the majority society, as well as for the ones from this segment of contemporary art, publicly visible and active only for 10 years (just think about the pavilion of Roma at the 2007 Venice Biennial), an art whihch is ready to be a companion and an inspiration for the present and future initiatives.
(The article is a translation of a the article published on 168 Óra Online http://m.168ora.hu/arte/romedia-alapitvany-kiallitasa-131879.html)