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 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
REACTIONS FROM INTERNATIONAL MEDIA:
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!
World Artists Initiative "Khetanes"
Phone: +31-6-466 318 47
Netherlands, August 2014
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 resign. 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, 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, 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, filmmaker, 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
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