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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REACTIONS FROM INTERNATIONAL MEDIA:

 
 
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Comment by Tina B 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!

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