I can think of several reasons why you should attend this Roma photography exhibit this weekend, and not just because your outdoor plans are shot thanks to this über-frustrating weather.
Reason #1: Your perception of the Roma is inaccurate
I apologize for the bluntness, but you and I both know it’s true. And I know you and I both know it’s true because it’s true for me, and I’ve studied this stuff. Not only have I studied this stuff (e.g. migration, integration, intercultural relations), but I consider myself a beacon of political correctness, yet I’ve still dressed up as a gypsy for Halloween more times than I care to admit. Why?
Because the Roma are one of Europe’s most misunderstood, over-stereotyped, and under-represented groups.
The Roma are known for residing in the outskirts of town – both physically and mentally – in “parallel societies”. Many believe that the Roma are either incapable or just plain unwilling to integrate. Yet, as is the case with many minority groups, there are much more powerful structural forces at work behind this phenomenon. Periods of political unrest and transition, targeted discrimination, cuts in welfare spending, and school and housing segregation have all contributed to (or caused, depending on how you want to see it) the struggles and alienation of the European Roma. As a reaction to systematic discrimination, groups often tread even further away from mainstream society than they’ve already been pushed, which in turn fuels damaging stereotypes. And ’round and ’round we go.
Reason #2: A Romani identity may be a misnomer, but it’s worth exploring
“Roma” is a blanket term for a group of people who originally migrated to Europe from India almost 1,000 years ago. They’re most commonly known as “Gypsies,” a name that actually comes from “Egyptian,” which they were initially mistaken for by Europeans due to their darker skin and colorful attire. Today, European Roma mostly come from the Balkans and their environs, the majority living in Bulgaria and Romania. Characterized by their nomadic lifestyle, the Roma can be found all throughout Europe and are the continent’s largest minority group.
The Roma are therefore a diverse diaspora – much more so than they are often portrayed – which is why some call the search for a shared Romani identity and culture a vain endeavor. It may also play a role in why Germany didn’t recognize the killing of Roma during the Holocaust as ethnic genocide until 1982 – although an estimated 25% of European Roma were annihilated. By the time many Roma victims finally “qualified” for restitution, many of them had passed away.
Today, there is a fear and misconception of massive immigration of Roma to richer Western European countries since the admittance of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU in 2007. France went so far as to deport more than 1,000 Roma back to their home countries in 2010. In Germany, the reality is that 80% of immigrants from these countries posses regular work and the net-migration rate (how many are arriving minus how many have left again) has since balanced out.
Reason #3: The Roma deserve a space within Berlin’s (and Europe’s) cultural scene
The Roma suffer from abject poverty, inadequate access to education and health care, and illiteracy (only 42% of European Roma finish elementary school). They are also the targets of deep-rooted prejudice and stereotypes, a popular one being that they are all beggars and criminals.
Part of this exhibit’s goal is to explore and showcase the complexity of Roma identity by allocating a space for Romani artists. Rather than portraying images solely of Roma, this exhibit provides a space for the work of Roma, giving the group a space for cultural expression, recognition, and validation.
Reason #4: It’s your last chance
This weekend marks the last few days of the Roma Image Studio exhibit, which concludes on June 2. You can find it in Neukölln’s Galerie im Saalbau on Karl-Marx-Straße 141. Admittance (and stereotype-debunking) free.
– By Sophia Burton
Sources and more reading:
Exhibit description and photo source (German)