While the 1930s was the period of the “Harlem Renaissance” in the United States and the emergence of “Négritude” in France, the representation of Roma/Gypsy/Traveler communities in Europe was still—for the most part—in the hands of Gaje [non-Roma], who considered Romani art as folk art. But as sociologist, activist, writer, and educator Thomas Acton put it, this attitude has changed little during the last century: “The work of modern Romani intellectuals and artists is often contrasted negatively with something collective, traditional and repetitive called ‘folklore’ or ‘naive art’ as though anything produced outside of tradition must necessarily lack authenticity.” Artist, curator and theorist Daniel Baker, a Romani Gypsy born in Kent, England, is among those Roma artists and intellectuals who have persistently challenged this preconception during recent decades. An ongoing examination of the influence of Romani visual culture, both on Romani communities and on wider society, is at the heart of Daniel Baker’s work. By employing elements of a Roma aesthetic in his artwork, his intention is for us to look again at objects and narratives that might be overlooked in order to find meanings that we might not expect, as is in the case of his Emergency Artefact #1, created during the time of the refugee crisis in Europe. As he himself put it: “Emergency Artefact is crocheted from a single survival blanket, the type used for disaster relief or to conserve the body temperature of accident victims. By utilizing this material—usually intended for use in extreme circumstances—within the seemingly banal realm of hobby craft / domestic pastime, I intended to emphasize the precarious nature of safety and comfort that so many of us take for granted. This work also draws upon the shiny qualities that underpin the Roma aesthetic to speak of the contingent nature of the Roma experience where safety and stability are continually at risk.”
Within the framework of OFF-Biennale, further positions of Roma contemporary art will be presented within the frame of the RomaMoMA project, a joint initiative of the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (ERIAC) and OFF-Biennale Budapest.