This ongoing project focuses on the Roma people, a subgroup of the Romani people who live primarily in Central and Eastern Europe. Often referred to as Gypsies, they have come to be known as “the forgotten people,” and have been persecuted throughout history.
Historians estimate that around 25 percent of all European Roma were exterminated in the Holocaust, named "the devouring" by the Roma. After the war, discrimination against Roma continued throughout Central and Eastern Europe. The Federal Republic of Germany determined that all measures taken against Roma before 1943 were legitimate official measures against persons committing criminal acts, not the result of policy driven by racial prejudice. This decision effectively closed the door to restitution for thousands of Roma victims, who had been deported to concentration camps, tortured, or forcibly sterilized.
Today the Roma are Europe's largest and fastest-growing ethnic minority, yet the near total societal exclusion of Roma has received little attention. The integration of Roma remains limited since their ethnicity effectively defines them as an underclass. They remain on the margins of society, living in isolated ghetto-like settlements. For the approximately 10 million Roma, joblessness, poverty, and illness are rampant. Either because of discrimination, lack of education, or skills, Roma unemployment is disproportionately high, reaching 70 percent in some countries and Roma children are routinely placed in schools for the "mentally disabled" or excluded from education altogether.
Over the years Amnesty International has researched different aspects of discrimination against the Romani communities across Europe. The organization has recorded the following findings in 2009 and the first half of 2010:
“Roma were often the victims of torture or other ill-treatment by law enforcement officers across the region. Roma were also often victims of racist attacks during which, they were not adequately protected by the police. The authorities in many countries failed to fulfill their domestic and international obligations towards the Roma community”.
This humanitarian, moral, and ethical crisis is the starting point of my project.
The objective of the project is to create a body of work that exposes the brutal conditions which the Roma face and endure daily, to make visible these invisible people and their struggle.
This project gathers together both historic and current research, archive footage and images of the Roma from the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) in Budapest, Hungary. The ERRC houses an extensive archive on the Roma and is an international public interest law organization working to combat anti-Romani racism and human rights abuse of Roma. In Hungary I conducted interviews and also followed, mapped and documented the Roma, their caravan travel routes and camps, both through Hungary and across the borders into Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovakia.
Along side my assembled documentary data base, I collected clips from films in which Gypsies (Roma) are represented, most often as dark, mysterious, sexy and dangerous, for example; Carmen, The Loves of Carmen, Carmen Jones, From Russia With Love, Golden Earrings, Gypsy Wildcat, I Even Meet Happy Gypsies, Time Of The Gypsies, just to name a few.
The culminating video work of the project will use the Gypsy dance by Carman, the most famous gypsy of all, from Bizet’s opera as a structure. In the scene, the music and Carman’s dancing begin to slowly build, getting more and more frenetic and frenzied until it ends in a shattering crescendo. This scene, intercut and assembled with the documentary images, interviews and footage will become the formal spine of the work.
I have received an Arts Matter Grant 2011 for this ongoing project.