Perched on a blue horse, the gypsy looks great in her colorful coat. She is even shrouded in a halo, like the Virgin of the Flight into Egypt to which this traveler, reputed to come from “Little Egypt”, seems here assimilated. The work of Malgorzata Mirga-Tas, this large patchwork of colored fabrics is inspired by a 17th century engraving by Jacques Callot showing ragged gypsies.
One of those stereotypical images that the designer – revealed by the Polish pavilion at the last Venice Biennale – hijacks to magnify, on the contrary, the Roma community from which she comes.
His Gipsy Madonna has just been acquired by the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations in Marseille, along with the works of some fifteen Romani artists, on the occasion of the “Barvalo” exhibition. which is dedicated to this people of travelers.
Gaps in collections
In France, apart from an exhibition on the “Gypsy Worlds” in 2018 at the Immigration Museum in Paris, few institutions have taken an interest in this ethnic minority, yet the largest in Europe with 10 to 12 million individuals. . “In 2014, a letter from the American anthropologist Jonah Steinberg, who came to visit the Mucem with his children and was surprised to find no reference to the Romani communities there, convinced us to tackle this vast subject”says Julia Ferloni, heritage curator.
A first examination of the Mucem collections revealed the extent of the problem. “Out of nearly 900 objects referenced in connection with Romani cultures, most were in reality only representations produced by us, the gadgets, and enamelled with clichés”she continues.
From the outset, the choice was therefore made to imagine a collaborative exhibition designed with Romani personalities. Alongside Julia Ferloni, the two guest curators Jonah Steinberg and Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka, deputy director of the European Romani Institute for Arts and Culture (Eriac), surrounded themselves with a committee of around fifteen researchers, representatives of associations and artists of different nationalities.
Together, they conducted a series of field surveys on Romani trades and know-how in Europe and as far away as Turkey, thus enriching the Mucem’s collections. Hot-iron work; making felt objects; picking jasmine in Grasse; Catalan rumba… A rich harvest of acquisitions and exchanges, as evidenced today by the “Barvalo” exhibition, a word that means “rich” and “proud”.
Seven centuries of ostracization in Europe
At the beginning of the route, a large animated map retraces the migration of these populations from India to Europe, from the 14th century. Amid clamor, dates and places light up in turn, recalling the terrible succession of expulsions, deportations to America, assimilations or forced sedentarizations to which these travelers were subjected, wherever they went.
An engraving by Dürer, a black head of « Gypsy » stuck on the body of an ancient statue probably by the sculptor Nicolas Cordier, recalls the sexist and racist prejudices attached to those whom an engraving of Épinal qualifies as “Marauding gypsies and the scourge of the countryside”.
Alongside, archival documents recall their enslavement to the rank of slaves in Romania, Wallachia and Moldavia for five centuries, until 1856! Other documents reveal forgotten facts such as the embarkation of four gypsies on Christopher Columbus’ third voyage to America or the engagement of many Romanis as soldiers over the centuries.
An entire wall lined with anthropometric notebooks, imposed by France on nomads from 1912, then replaced by circulation notebooks in 1969 (they will only be abolished in 2017), gives a harsh image of the police surveillance they are subject to. the object.
The overwhelming photographs of Valentin Merlin on compulsory parking areas, such as that of Massy (Essonne) wedged between a cemetery and a cement factory, reflect the persistent return of these communities to the margins. “With us, we say if you are looking for the reception area, look for the recycling centre”, confides in a video Dylan Schutt, a gypsy social worker, while rekindling the warmth of these memories of the camp; the evenings spent listening to the elders…
In the exhibition, three other filmed testimonies, from a Roma anthropologist, a Sinti school mediator and linguist and finally a gypsy showman, thus embody different voices, between revolts and commitments.
The Samudaripen, the forgotten genocide of the Romanies
The nerve center of the route, paintings by Ceija Stojka, deported as a child to the Nazi camps, evoke the Samudaripen, the genocide which claimed nearly half a million victims among the Romanies, while resounding with the words ofAuschwitz, a poem by Santo Spinelli “Alexian”.
The exhibition also highlights the commitment of these communities in the fights and in the resistance, then their mobilization after the war to have this mass crime recognized; to see it listed in textbooks other than in two lines; finally preserve the memory of former places of internment, one of which, in the Czech Republic, housed an industrial pigsty for a long time. “Requests often ignored, despised”is indignant Sylvie Debart, whose grandfather had insisted on enlisting in the flag, when he was a minor, by falsifying his papers.
It took until 2016 for the President of the Republic, François Hollande, to recognize France’s responsibility in the internment of Gypsies. And on January 30, for the Prime Minister, Élisabeth Borne, to announce the creation of a memorial on the deportation of Romanis in the former concentration camp of Montreuil-Bellay in Maine-et-Loire, created especially for them by the Vichy regime.
“A first historical exhibition”
“Evoking this long rejection of Romanis in the Mucem exhibition has achieved consensus within our committee of experts”, souligne Jonah Steinberg. “Many wanted to testify to their suffering, while showing their positive contributions, their mobilization also to defend their culture”. In 1971, the first Romani world congress was held in London, a prelude to many militant struggles to defend the right to education, to decent reception conditions…
With humour, the exhibition ends with a small “gadgé museum”, imagined by the artist Gabi Jimenez, who sends us a mirror image of clichés about our lifestyles, in a pseudo-ethnological approach. Then we part with the grand final salute of some fifty famous Romani personalities, portrayed by Emanuel Barica on the picture rails: from Charlie Chaplin to Django Reinhardt, from Georges Cziffra to Tony Gatlif, via the poetess Papusza and the Bouglione brothers. Too brief an overview of the diversity of Romani cultures? Jonah Steinberg agrees: “This exhibition is only a first historical milestone. I now hope that it will inspire other museums. »
The Mucem celebrates its 10th anniversary
From June 2 to 4, the Mucem will celebrate its tenth anniversarys with a series of concerts by rappers Black M, Alonzo and Soolking, performances, readings, dancing with the collective La Horde, from the Ballet national de Marseille, and a pyrotechnic show on the evening of June 3. Visits to the museum and exhibitions will be free of charge, and the weekend will end with three balls on the evening of June 4.
A 100% digital subscription, from €3 per month, will also be launched via a mobile application that will allow unlimited and skip-the-line access to the museum. The objective of the president of the establishment, Pierre-Olivier Costa, is “to expand” the public visiting the museum so that it is “more consistent with the sociology of the territory».
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