IS ROMA CULTURE A SUBCULTURE, DAMAGING MAINSTREAM CULTURE?

On 2 July 2014, The Romanian Peasant Museum in Bucharest opened its doors to host an exhibition of paintings, called “Confluence, influence – in art?”. All paintings have been made by the Roma painter and sculptor George Mihal Vasilescu, also present on this Khetanes site and member of the Visual Arts and Paintings Group. The exhibition of paintings of manele musicians, that will last until 8 July 2014, caused a stir in Romanian press and social media. The director of the museum, Virgil Stefan Nitulescu, was even asked to resign, by - among others - Bogdan Dianocu, a Romanian politician, who started a campaign on his Facebook page.

The painter himself received threats. The feelings started running that high that foreign press got involved. Le Huffington Post (Canada), die Welt (Germany) and France Press report about “continuing insults and threats” and “hate-speeches against exhibit”.

George Mihal Vasilescu in the Museum in Bucharest, standing in front of two of his works. Photo by Lucian Muntean

What happened?..

 

George Mihal Vasilescu is not an amateur. He exhibited his work in Graz, Austria, Strasbourg, France, and in the Galerie “Kai Dikhas” in Berlin, Germany. Recently the painter made a series of portraits of famous manele artists, vocalists as well as musicians. Manele is a music style in Romania, divided in classical and modern manele. The classical manele are a Turkish-derived genre, performed by mostly Romani musicians (Wikipedia).

With oil on canvas and gold leaf, the painter portrayed Florin Salam, Adrian Minune, Vali Vijelic and bands like Taraf de Haïdouks. Artists that are also very popular among Romanians and whose music can be heard in disco’s all over the country. So far all okay. The problems arose, when it was decided that the exhibition would take place in The Romanian Peasant Museum. This institution is dedicated to Romanian culture, has some rooms where usually contemporary art exhibitions take place and is one of the highlight spots in Bucharest.

Muzeul Taranului Roman, The Romanian Peasant Museum on the day of the opening of the exhibition, 2 July 2014. From the left to the right: Pavel Susara, curator of the exhibition, and top art expert in Romania, George Mihal Vasilescu and Virgil Stefan Nitulescu, director of the Museum (Photo by Lucian Muntean)

Roma culture “part of” or “against” Romanian culture?

 

Should this museum host portraits of manele singers and gypsies? The director, Virgil Stefan Nitulescu, fully backed the artist and stressed the freedom of artistic expression. He, Nitulescu, will not stop the exhibition, there is no place for censorship, he states. Also the curator of the exhibition, Pavel Susara, a top art expert in Romania, supports the painter. Many other Romanians, however, commented that this exhibit would harm the national image. They call Roma culture a subculture, a culture of belly dancers, and they make fun of their foreign critics in Germany, France and elsewhere, who accuse them of racism. Would the French show these works of art in the “Louvre”, would the Germans show them in their “Altes Museum” in Berlin?

 

Also Bogdan Diaconu, the politician who takes a lead in the anti-campaign, denies that he goes against an ethnicity. It is the subculture and its music that he focuses on. But The Romanian Peasant Museum is not performing concerts, it is exhibiting visual art! If painters are only allowed to paint what the audience pleases, museums worldwide would be empty.

 

Also in Romania, Roma live in social exclusion, in isolated places or surrounded by walls. Art, however, is free. It cannot be socially excluded, even it if reminds us of the existence of co-citizens whom we try to ignore. That seems to be the real problem in Romania, and unfortunately not only there.

Main TV and (international) media are confering now whether this is racism or not.  It promises no good that Romanians defend themselves by pointing at the murder on the Roma boy in France who was lynched. Even the name of Hitler turns up. Germans should be silent instead of criticizing. Very seldom one can read about art! (Photo by Lucian Muntean)

On this site, where art has a major role as a motor for creativity and better understanding, comments by collegue artists, museum directors, curators and media experts will be highly welcomed!

Els de Groen

writer, poet and former critic

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Reaction from World Artists Initiative "Khetanes":

Beginning of August, it was decided that "Khetanes" would start an open letter campaign. Within less than one week, 29 artists, scholars and activists decided to co-sign. We publish the text of the letter here, with the names of the first co-signers and those who joined later. If you want your name to be added, please, mention this in the comments of this blog. Regularly new names will be added to the existing list.

In September, TV broadcastings will again pay attention to what happened in Bucharest. Also in September we will further distribute this letter. Freedom of the arts is a dear principle, and not only in Romania. We will defend it anywhere and we count on your support!

Els

****************************************

World Artists Initiative "Khetanes"

 

Phone: +31-6-466 318 47

E-mail: Artists_Initiative@ziggo.nl

www.khetanes.org

 

 

 

 


 

Netherlands, August 2014

 

 

OPEN LETTER

 

 

Is Roma culture a subculture damaging mainstream culture?

 

 

Censorship is a complex head with different sides to its face: an official side based on law and an unofficial side based on fear and manipulation. Both sides are closely related. Under Nazi rule, in the 1940s, books were banned and swing music was forbidden in Europe. In the second half of that century, communist censorship silenced dissident artists. Today most Europeans live in the area of the EU Charter of the Fundamental Rights and its article 13: Freedom of the arts and sciences. Yet we see again censorship, the unofficial variant! Do we resign and accept practices that are fatal to art?

 

The Romanian painter George Mihal Vasilescu is not an amateur. He exhibited his work in Austria, France, Bangladesh and in Germany, in the Gallery “Kai Dikhas” in Berlin. Recently the painter made a series of portraits of famous manele artists, vocalists as well as musicians. With oil on canvas and gold leaf, the painter portrayed Florin Salam, Adrian Minune, Vali Vijelic and others, and also renowned bands like Taraf de Haïdouks, stars at international music festivals.

 

From 2 July – 8 July 2014, the Romanian Peasant Museum in Bucharest hosted an exhibition of Vasilescu’s work, entitled “Confluence, influence – in art”. Four national Romanian TV channels and written media reported on the event. Also foreign press got involved. BBC for example was interested for making a documentary on the very musicians that the painter had portrayed. Other foreign media, from Germany, France, Austria and Canada, stepped in because of a smear campaign against the exhibition and the director of the museum, that had nothing to do with art. Local Romanians protested against portraying musicians from a Gypsy “subculture” in their mainstream culture museum. The exhibition should be closed, and the director (who received death threats) should quit his job. Protesters called it a scandal to exhibit portraits of Gypsies.

 

 

Luckily the director, Virgil Stefan Nitulescu, refused “to censor art”. And also the curator, Pavel Susara, a top art expert in Romania, fully backed the painter. Both stood firm during the insulting Facebook campaign by Bogdan Dianocu, a Romanian politician (social democrat party).

 

Meanwhile the exhibition is over, the artworks have been stored in a room not accessible for audience, but the campaign went on… Two days after the closure of the exhibition, Prima TV (national television) made a short documentary for which the painter and Vadim Tudor had been invited. Vadim Tudor, President of Romania Mare, (nationalist, far right party) and Member of European Parliament, called the painter “talented”, “a big promise” even, but also advised him to paint more serious themes… And Vadim Tudor underlined that the Romanian Peasant Museum was not the right place to exhibit. In the final documentary, broadcasted on 10 July, this was the major message, due to cuts by the makers.

 

In brief, according to the protesters, a Romanian culture museum should not offer room for what a majority considers to be a “subculture”. The word “sub” stirs up another word “superior”, exactly the way the word “unter” stirs up the word “über”.  Do politicians again have the right to decide what is “sub” or “superior”? What is serious and allowed, and what is inferior and must be banned?

And we, colleague artists, curators, directors of museums, journalists and legal experts, what do we do? Do we resign and accept a censorship that is violating fundamental rights and is fatal to art?

 

Those who do not resign, please sign this open Khetanes letter!

 

 

See for more details: http://artists-for-roma-net.ning.com/profiles/blogs/is-roma-culture...

 

 

 

 

 

Els de Groen, writer, poet, initiator of “Khetanes”, Netherlands


Dr. Virgil Ștefan NIȚULESCU, manager, the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant, Romania

 

Moritz Pankok, künstlerischer Leiter der Galerie Kai Dikhas Berlin, Germany

 

Ronald Lee, writer and lecturer, Canada

 

Marvin Steel, visual artist, USA

 

Garth Cartwright, journalist and author, UK

 

Félix Monget, painter and poet, France

 

Roberto Malini, writer, artist, co-president EveryOne Group, Italy

 

Dario Picciau, artist, movie director, co-president EveryOne Group, Italy

 

Omar Bhatia, visual artist & writer, UK

 

Catherine Gaudin, photographe, France

 

Seydou Toure, photographe et cineaste, France

 

Fabien Dako, cineaste, écrivain, auteur indépendant, France

 

Dominique Louriou-Eberhardt, zweite Vorsitzende des Rroma Kultur Rad e.V. Berlin, Germany

 

Ciuin Ferrin, Educational Director, O Porrajmos Educational Society, USA

 

Elena Marushiakova, Studii Romani society, Bulgaria

 

Veselin Popov, Studii Romani society, Bulgaria

 

Roxana Marin, translator and human rights activist, Romania

 

Stefan Ivanov, curator Etnografski muzey Kotel, Bulgaria

 

Pascal Pistone, pianiste, auteur compositeur et réalisateur, France

 

François Bettancourt, pianiste, France

 

Clémence Savelli, chanteuse, auteur compositeur, interprète, France

 

Alma Bettancourt, chanteuse, France

 

Adèle Pistone, chanteuse, France

 

Florence Guerfy, comédienne, France

 

Raluca Petcutz, human rights activist, Romania

 

Paul Hitter, visual artist, Romania

 

Dinu Adam, writer, translator, journalist, Romania

Márton Rövid, academic, Hungary

Viola Razavi, dancer, psychologist, Germany

Musa Moris Farhi, novelist, UK

Paul Jay Polansky, poet, USA

Kike del Olmo, photographer, Spain

Judith A. Sivonda, painter, sculptor, USA

Leisl Bonell, singer, creative, band Juana Ghani, USA

Brian Bonell, musician, band Juana Ghani, civil engineer, USA

Emma Roper Evans, writer, UK

Cara De Silva, writer and lecturer, USA

Stephane Karo, Divano, music producer, Belgium, also on behalf of:

Taraf de Haïdouks, band, Romania

Koçani Orkestar, band, Macedonia

Gabrielle Rensch, musician, Canada

Marco Brazzoduro, university professor, president of the Association: Citadinanza e Minoranze, Italy

Talitha Brauer, photographer, Germany

H.U. Ellenberger, translator, Italy/Switzerland

Pauline Lee, human rights activist, Ireland

Fredy Hoffman Reinhardt, writer, Costa Rica

Alexandra Beaujard, musician, singer, dancer, France, also on behalf of

Nadara Gypsy Band, France/Romania

Asociata Culturala Nadara, Roma O.N.G., Romania

Saimir Mile, poet and lawyer, Association "La Voix des Rroms", France

Zuzana Brejcha, film director, Austria

Monica Bodirsky, artist, arts educator, activist, Canada

Andreas Loessl, researcher, Germany

The Guitar Machine, band, Italy

Wout J. van Vloten, independent researcher diffusing cultural & social historical facts relating to Rrom and Travellers / Gens du Voyage, Netherlands

Elez Bislim, Blogger, independent researcher on the Romani History, Language and Culture, Co-Founder of the Lumijakhere Rroma (www.worldrroma.org), Brazil

Milos Vasic, Udruzenje likovni umethika Roma Srbije, LUR, Fine Arts Association of Roma in Serbia, Serbia

Menno van der Reijden, chairman of the Hotclubs de France-Nederland Foundation, Netherlands

Carol Silverman, Professor Department of Anthropology University of Oregon, USA

Grattan Puxon, author, 8 April Movement, UK

Kerstin König, human rights activist, Germany

Dick Blau, photographer, USA

Hristo Kyuchukov, linguist, educator, Free University of Berlin, Germany

Barbara White, musician, UK

Patrick Jasper Lee, author, artist, composer, UK

Slavica Stojanovic, feminist activist, Serbia

Karin White, academic, Institute of technology, Social Sciences, Ireland

Shaukat Ali, writer, Pakistan

Margareta Matache, Roma rights activist, Romania

Rana Aida Halprin, dancer, documentary photographer, activist artist, USA

Tini Chris, musician, artist, media, human rights activist, Hungary

Paul Rafferty, journalist, USA/Netherlands

Bajram Haliti, lawyer, journalist and publicist, Serbia

Annabel Carballo Mesa, human rights activist, Spain

Agnes Daroczi, Romano Institution Foundation - Budapest, Hungary

Dr Adrian Marsh, PhD, Researcher in Romani Studies, Turkey

Bill Bila, Board member - Roma Education Fund, volunteer La Voix des Rroms, Board member - Roma Education Support trust, France

Gabriela Hrabanova, RomaReact, Brussels, Belgium

Lukás Houdek, photographer, publisher and editor, Czech Republic

 

Jasmine Dellal, Film Director/Producer, writer, Little Dust Productions, USA

 

Andreas Lehner, Vorsitzender Volkshochschule der Bürgenländischen Roma, Austria

 

Carmen de Torres, Flamenco dancer, Singer, Teacher and Choreographer from Sevilla, Spain

 

Julia Bolton Holloway, Professor Emerita, USA

Janardhan Pathania, writer, India

 

Peter Jorna, Consutant Social Inclusion, Roma & Sinti Issues, Netherlands

 

Selahetin Kruezi, writer, Denmark

 

Jud Nirenberg, author, publisher, chairperson of American Council for Romani Equality, USA

 

Bob Kozak, Songwriter, Composer, Musician, Photographer, Business owner, Canada

 

Lynn Hutchinson Lee, artist, member of Toronto Roma Community Centre, Canada

 

Panayote Dimitras, Human Rights Advocate, Greek Helsinki Monitor, Greece

 

Dragan Ristic, musician (KAL band), Serbia

Lynda Kraar, musician, philantropic consultant, USA

Sali Ibrahim, writer, poet, Bulgaria

 

Isabelle Deledda, human rights activist, visual artist, France, also on behalf of

 

Latcho Rom Strasbourg, France

 

Emil Robert Cohen, human rights activist, Sofia, Bulgaria

 

Orhan Galjus, C.E.O. Radio Patrin, Netherlands

 

Peter Vermeersch, political scientist and writer, Belgium

 

Edina Tordai, lawyer and human rights activist, Hungary

Claire-lyne Xylena Apotheloz, visual artist, USA

 

Adrian Voichitescu, actor, producer International Romani Art Festival (IRAF), Romania

Rabbi Galina Trefil, Film Director, Writer, USA

Views: 1086

Comment by Tina B (Tinari) on July 9, 2014 at 17:26

CONGRATULATIONS, George, for visualizing and manifesting such an impactful exhibit! It certainly advanced a much needed conversation about tolerance.

I am thankful you and Pavel and Virgil are safe and sound. How scary to receive threats. Thank you for being brave and focused on the art in the face of adversity. Keep putting safety first. 

Thank goodness for people like Els, and members of the foreign press, for filing reports so the insults, threats, and hate speech now have been publicly documented.

To add my voice to the harmony, I’ll tone in on the questions...

Is Roma culture “part of” or “against” Romanian culture? 

part of ...

Humbly, I suggest that if the government of a nation wants a) to keep its youth/citizens safe and sound AND b) to remain unified, then it is equitable, dignified, and just that every nation’s culture museum feature glorious exhibits about all the different types of people there.

Should the museum host portraits of Gypsy manele singers? 

Should is a guilt inducing word, but, yes, it should, and, thankfully, it already did!! Good job, George, Pavel and Virgil!!!

Also humbly, I propose that human beings that make fun of other people OR say things like “Roma culture is a subculture, a culture of belly dancers” are acting mean. Eventually, their damaging argument will be disqualified, deemed irrelevant in our minds AND within proper public forums. 

Making fun of another person and saying that certain people are “sub” can both be classified as mean, certainly parents, teachers, preachers, doctors, lawyers, and others would agree. Moreover, racism is another way to say acting mean, so since the subculture comment is mean and involves race, then it can be considered an example of racism. 

I’ll close with these thoughts. My Mom says, “If you cannot say anything nice, do not say anything at all.”  Why? For so many good reasons that we have all heard about since we were children, but Ice Cube's simple sentiments sum it up for now: “check yourself before you wreck yourself”.

Comment by Els on July 9, 2014 at 20:40

Very well said!

Comment by Leisl Bonell on August 18, 2014 at 18:24

I have emailed you as well, but please add my name to these signatures. 

Leisl Bonell, singer, USA

Comment by Talitha Brauer on August 18, 2014 at 23:23

Please add my name to the letter:

Talitha Brauer, photographer, Germany

Comment by Fredy Hoffmann Reinhardt on August 19, 2014 at 0:45

Thank you for this opportunity.Myself I am Romm-Sinto and very proud to be
what I am.There is no such thing like subculture, what Roma or Sinte are concerned.We are different and we are having our own believings and culture,
but this doesn´t make us a subculture in the very negative sense of this word.
Opre Roma
Fredy/ Yanko Weiss Reinhardt

Comment by Nadara Gypsy Band on August 19, 2014 at 1:15

I sign!

Alexandra Beaujard, Musician, singer, dancer, France, also behalf of:

Nadara gypsy band, France/Romania

Asociatia Culturala Nadara, Roma ong, Romania

Comment by Nadara Gypsy Band on August 19, 2014 at 1:47

It's terrible to see that lot of people always think that roma shouldn't exist, in romania lot of people consider roma as animals...

What it's really incredible is because the museum show a painting exhibition and not a concert!!! The painter is free to paint what he want, even he paint roma singers.

The reality is that in Romania roma musicians and producer have quite all the music market in their hands, and it make this kind of people crazy. Yes Roma are great artist as they were, and as they will. And thanks to them for hundreds of years they played and conserved the traditional romanian music. They excell in all kind of music from classic, to folk, jazz and manele wich is a very big musical movment in Romania that had changed the music majors in Romania. First more folkloristic, and pop music had the market. But not only roma people like this music, it's very popular in all comunity as romanian and ungarian people ask manele at their party, clubs and weddings. This singers became very rich and famous it's specialy why some as Diaconu hate them and made lot of media atack against manele artist. When americans or occidental people make money it's ok. When roma make money, or they are robbers or mafiosi or now a subculture...

Opre roma!

Comment by Elez Bislim on August 19, 2014 at 22:50

Lumijakhere Rroma,

In the 21 Century happens this, it's for shame, we don't have our country but the country where we live has to be proud of us that we product positive things not just for the Rroma people also for the country. Well done pralla show the good things that also we can organize something for our people .

Devlesa 

Lumijakhere Rroma 

Comment by Menno J.H van der Reijden on August 20, 2014 at 20:46

strange how musicians can be loved abroad and celebrated as a fine example and representative of their country and not liked by their fellow countrymen. I only take Taraf de Haïdouk, for I've seen them perform in Tilburg, Holland and in Samois, France and even in an early Tony Gatliff movie. Great original musicians at every venue in the West gaining massive rounds of applause. And now a painter found it in his mind and heart to portray them proper and put the painting on display for all to see. Strange that fellow Romanians try and prohibit him doing so. Seems there is some misunderstanding going on, toput it mildly. Maybe, to concur with the political idea,  the museum that was sought out to do the display was not the correct one, maybe a different museum should have the honor. For instance, you don't put a Rembrand on display in a museum for ancient letters of futuristic cutlery. Then, feet back on earth, this is of course just the beginning of an anti campaign that only starts here. There is some jealousy present, these musicians being asked to perform abroad and earning actual money can aggrevate a not well earning politician. In short, I hail you salutes painter and museum director for your bravery, how ever shortlived the exhibition was in the end, your stance made world news. Let art be present in an art-museum and if paintings of musicians are among that art, then them too have to get a proper museum wall on which to hang and be shown to the public. No censorship should be allowed to rule out that right. The museum director should be the one person (with his staff) to program an exhibition and no political influence should interfere. 

Els, you can write my name down on the signed list.

Menno van der Reijden,

chairman to the Hot Club de France-Nederland Fondation

Comment by Patrick Jasper Lee on September 8, 2014 at 9:59

Yes, please add my name to this list. I FULLY support you.

Patrick Jasper Lee, author, artist, composer.

Thanks, and kushto bok with all your campaigns. 

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