With the digital “RomArchive” Sinti and Roma want to make their arts and cultures more visible in the future. They also act against prejudice. Federal President Steinmeier supports the initiative.

“This project has historical significance for our minority in Germany and Europe,” says Romani Rose at the presentation of the RomArchive , the digital archive of the Sinti and Roma. For the first time in its 600-year history, the chairman of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma and member of the advisory board of the “RomArchive”, Sinti and Roma have the opportunity to present their arts and cultures themselves, regardless of centuries-old attributions and prejudices.

Counter-history of the Sinti and Roma

5000 objects have been compiled in the database of the “RomArchive”. Pictures, texts, videos and audios testify to the enormous wealth of artistic productions of Sinti and Roma. It quickly becomes clear that a kind of “monochrome” art of the Sinti and Roma does not exist. Rather, it is the arts and cultures that have emerged in close cooperation with the respective majority societies – and are far too little appreciated as an important contribution to European cultural history. The “RomArchive” is to change that, which is now available in German, English and Romani and was funded by the Federal Cultural Foundation with 3.75 million euros.

RomArchive DORANTES (Antonio Barce)

Bring flamenco to the piano: Dorantes from Sevilla played at the cultural evening of the Federal President on the occasion of the new “RomArchive”

A self-reported counter-story should be this archive, say the two project leaders Isabel Raabe and Franziska Sauerbrey. Dance, theater, film, music, literature and flamenco are the fields of art in which the Sinti and Roma tell their own cultural history right up to the present day. For example, their contribution to flamenco curated by musicologist Gonzalo Montano Pena from the University of Seville. Most Spaniards are not aware of the contributions of the Roma to the “Flamenco Gitano”, he says in an interview with Deutsche Welle. There would be a whole “group of melodies” that came from the pen of musicians with Roma background. For example, from the Sevillian Dorantes, who transferred the flamenco from the guitar to the piano.

For the Film Section, 35 films were selected from among 350 films that deal with or were produced by Sinti and Roma. Curator Katalin Bársony has hilariously left behind those films that she believes spread stereotypes about the life and culture of the Sinti and Roma. Therefore, one will look in vain for the successful strip “The time of the gypsies” by Emir Kusturica. For this Bársony has taken “Taikon” by Lawen Mohtadi. The film about the activist and civil rights activist of the same name is still relatively well-known, the others barely. The same ethical standards follow the sections dance, theater, literature and music. But even here, the general public will not know many artists and plays.

Against ignorance and racism

Picture of the artist Delaine Le Bas in front of her installation Witch Hunt who looks like a tent with figures and patterns

Exhibition at the Berlin Akademie der Künste on the occasion of the new “RomArchive”: the internationally esteemed artist Delaine Le Bas in front of her installation “Witch Hunt”

For this purpose, the Sinti and Roma are mainly responsible for ignorance and latent racism in the major European societies and their cultural institutions. This is how it is in conversation with Deutsche Welle, for example, the British-born photographer, filmmaker and performance artist Delaine Le Bas. She is one of the six artists who were part of “Paradise Lost” in 2007, the first Roma pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Of course, she is also represented in “RomArchive”. Discrimination mechanisms differed in European countries, according to the internationally esteemed artist: Subtle in Britain or Germany, more open in Hungary, for example.

Only a few in the cultural industry support the Sinti and Roma so massively, as the director of the Berlin Gorki Theater, Shermin Langhoff, did last year with the first Roma Biennale. “It is still a struggle for Roma artists and in general for people with a Roma background to get their rights in European societies,” she tells Deutsche Welle. And demands that the cultural institutions should change in the sense of decolonization: “We need Roma as responsible persons in these institutions – not only as artists, but also as financiers, organizers and creatives”.

Steinmeier calls for more appreciation for Sinti and Roma

No doubt: The long shadow of a centuries-long history, which was partly marked by discrimination and persecution, is also above the “RomArchive”. This is clearly noticeable in the section “Civil Rights Movement of the Sinti and Roma”. Among other things, it documents the fight against discrimination, in other words anti-Gypsyism, or advocacy for women’s rights or the campaign against school segregation in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. In the section “Voices of the victims”, victims of the genocide by the Nazis have their say in early personal reports.

Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke of the “forgotten Holocaust” at a cultural evening with Sinti and Roma at Schloss Bellevue. The murder of half a million Sinti and Roma in Europe must be brought more into the consciousness of the people. Steinmeier called for a more careful appreciation of the “often consciously or unconsciously overlooked, neglected, even suppressed or even suppressed culture”.

Picture by Romani Rose Chairman of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma

Warns against increased antiziganism: Romani Rose, President of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma

The “RomArchive” could be an important building block in this way. For Romani Rose, the chairman of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, there is no moment too early in view of the strengthening of right-wing national forces: “The rejection of Sinti and Roma is again more clearly expressed,” he criticized against Deutsche Welle. A study by the University of Leipzig in November 2018 recently found that 60 percent of Germans agreed with the statement that Sinti and Roma were prone to crime.

Anyone wishing to form their own, unbiased image of Sinti and Roma and their contributions to European culture will not be able to ignore the “RomArchive” in the future.

On 24th January at 20.00 CET the “RomArchive” will be unlocked. From 24.-27.1.2019 the Festival “Performing RomaArchive” will take place in the Akademie der Künste. Exhibitions and concerts of the festival are joined by artists who are also present in the “RomArchive”.  

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