In 2006, the Open Society Institute (now the Open Society Foundations) published a ground-breaking volume entitled 'Meet Your Neighbours: Contemporary Roma Art from Europe', presenting Romani visions of the world, edited by a Romani expert, Timea Junghaus, and presented through the eyes of a new generation of Gypsy, Roma, Traveller artists and sculptors, in Europe.1
Four years earlier, the 'Second Site' exhibition at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, University of Greenwich, had brought together four of the most accomplished and prolific Gypsy, Roma, Traveller artists working in Britain at the time: Dr Daniel Baker, Delaine Le Bas, Damian Le Bas and Ferdinand Koci.
In the Afterword of the exhibition’s catalogue, Dr Thomas A. Acton wrote:
They are not professional Gypsies; they are not Gypsy artists… They are definitely not naïve. They are artists who happen to be of Roma/Gypsy/Traveller origin. They are not part of any Gypsy problem. If you have a problem with their origins, that’s your problem, not theirs… This exhibition is an act of affirmation, not one of defence.
These were, together with later exhibitions (such as the 2007 Roma Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, Paradise Lost), further acts of affirmation that brought the visions of Romani artists into the mainstream, to some degree.
Earlier exhibitions, such as that held in Paris in 1985 (shown below), adopted a stance that was both defensive and naïve, usually at the behest of the funders - in this case, the French Ministry of Culture.
In this sense, the 'Second Site' exhibition broke with this precedent. Romani art was no longer 'defensive' or 'naïve', and the presentation of Romani identity was through Romani eyes, emphasising a Romani 'gaze' rather than the gorgio 'gaze', predominant for so long. This term, gorgio (and its cognates amongst European Roma, gadjé), means 'non-Romani', in a similar way to the Yiddish term, goyim.
This exhibition text respectfully uses a variety of terms to describe, without defining, communities that self-identify as part of a wider collective of Romani and Traveller peoples. The author, a Gypsy himself, has always encouraged scholars and researchers to use terminology that local people use about themselves, whether Gezginler or Göcebeler in Anatolia and Trackya (Turkey), or Mercheros or Quinqui in Andalusia and Catalonia (Spain), to Gypsies and Travellers in Wales. To recognise individuals and families' use of terms they choose is essential, whether or not they ascribe to collective nouns that are used in political, scholarly, or scientific contexts, and these are frequently corrective to the imposition of such collective terms.
For more details about these terms, see http://romaniarts.co.uk and the Romani and Traveller Alphabet there.