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

What happened?..

 

George Mihai 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 Mihai 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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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 Mihai 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

Sani Rifati, President of Voice of Roma, Californea, USA

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

INTERNATIONAL GIPSY FESTIVAL IN TILBURG, NETHERLANDS, MAY 2015

May, 2015, George Vasilescu was invited to come over to the Netherlands in order to attend the International Gipsy Festival, where 10 huge banners (2 x 2 m), each with prints of his paintings, were going to be exhibited in the large Festival garden.

Amongst Vasilescu's works are the pieces of art, shown in the Peasant Museum in Bucharest in summer 2014.

One of his works is a portrait of the Romanian band "Fanfara Ciocalia". During the Sunday programme of the Festival (31 May), Fanfara Ciocalia will perform with the Canadian guitar player Adrian Raso in a show called "Devil's Tale": a very special mix of Balkan brass and Gipsyjazz.

THANK YOU, ALBERT SIEBELINK!

It was Albert Siebelink, director of the Festival, who invited George to exhibit his paintings. The Romani artists whom the painter has portrayed, happen to be famous and much appreciated musicians at the International Gipsy festival in Tilburg e.g. Taraf de Haïdouks (2014) and Fanfara Ciocalia (2015). The opening of the Festival was done by Marcelle Hendrickx, Councillor of the City of Tilburg.

SURPRISE!..

And then there was a surprise: the councillor presented a portrait in oil of Albert Siebelink, made by George Vasilescu. On the photo Albert is showing the portrait to the press. With the portrait, the city of Tilburg welcomed the cooperation between Albert Siebelink and George Vasilescu.

Albert Siebelink en George Vasilescu, just before the start of the first concerts on Saturday, 30 May, in Tilburg:

Immediately after the first musicians and also dancers took the floor: Zigeunerorkest Brandt, No Sikiriki Banda, Amariszi, Albert Bello / Oriol Sana and Paulus and Noah Schäfer, Mec Yek, Rafael Sanchez Quintet featuring Marco Cruz, Project Rakija, The Gipsy Wolves, Vojasa, Barcelona Gipsy Klezmer Orchestra, BandAdriatica, Roby Lakatos / Giani Lincan, Bubliczki and Defil's Tale, with Fanfara Ciocarlia featuring Adrian Raso...

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Comment by Stoimen on September 9, 2014 at 11:16
Comment by Rana Aida Halprin, sent to Artists_Initiative@ziggo.nl:
All art is liberated from  boundaries and borders . By it's very nature and essence, the expression of art is pan HUMAN .Art  may be informed by ones distinct and culture - in which case Roma or Gypsy arts are some of the most profound creative expression in Europe and the world. . I was born   into a family of legendary artists: my father  sat on the United States Council of the Arts , I have deep relationship and respect for the artistic gifts of the Roma ,especially in  the field of music and dance .To dispute the exhibition Roma or paintings Of Roma people and culture is like attempting to take the  stars out of  the Sky . ….. 
Rana Aida Halprin , Dancer, documentary photographer, activist Artist USA 
Comment by Paul V. Rafferty on September 9, 2014 at 12:59

WELL SAID !! It is absolutely ridiculous and evil that that anyone, especially politicians, should discriminate against Artists because of their ethnic identity. It is so reminiscent of the Nazi mentality's attempt to blame scapegoats as tools to divide the People. ALL Human Beings are worthy of Respect and the Roma and Sinti Peoples deserve not only Respect but also Praise for their ability to survive and maintain their own Culture which continues to contribute to World Culture. The insane and evil racists have NOTHING to contribute to Society and they will die from their own venom.

Paul V. Rafferty

Comment by Stoimen on September 11, 2014 at 14:01

Comment by , Bill Bila, sent to Artists_Initiative@ziggo.nl:

It is a scandal that Romanians still dare to claim Roma have not contributed to and should not be able to contribute to Romanian culture.  This move to ethnically cleanse their culture of any trace of the Roma demonstrates the lack of self esteem of the majority population. Instead of being proud of the richness of their history and culture, they fear being associated with their fellow citizens (members of the Roma minority) across Europe. This is shameful, childish and an unacceptable use of art. Art is meant to open our minds and unite us in our humanity.   
Bill Bila, Board Member - Roma Education Fund, volunteer La Voix des Rrroms, Board Member - Roma Education Support Trust
“Be the change you want to see in the world." Mahatma Gandhi
Stop aux expulsions forcées des Roms en France!
KHANCHI PA AMENDE BIAMENGO!! - (No solution about us without us)
Comment by Bob Kozak on September 15, 2014 at 18:23

I support fully, please add my name to this list.

Bob Kozak

Songwriter / Composer / Musician / Photographer/Business Owner - Canada

Comment by Michael F Brien on October 5, 2014 at 11:20

Damaging in what way? Through discovery? Such as discovery of a difference? If there were no Roma culture, would there be more or on the other hand less life and joy and also that which teaches and preserves memory and moral, other long lost cultural influences...

 

Comment by Stoimen on October 5, 2014 at 12:54

Racists believe in the fiction of pure ethnicities that create pure art. They distinguish a pure major culture and a minor subculture. In their eyes, arts are crops that must be protected against damaging weeds.

In reality, art, culture is a process of permanent exchanges and influences. See how many composers of classical music have been inspired by Roma musicians: Brahms, Bartók, Liszt, Dvorak, Turina, Granados, Albéniz, Rodrigo, M. de Falla, Bizet... We should not forget about this and cherish the original composers, Roma, who brought us this richness. In architecture, literature, dance and painting, we see the same phenomenon of exchanges and influences between peoples.

Art that is locked up, turns into kitsch. And people who lock up others, turn into oppressors.

Comment by Viola Hinz-Hassan Pour Razavi on April 8, 2018 at 19:11
I would also like to sign: Viola Razavi, dancer, psychologist, Bischofsheim, Germany

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