‘Groundbreaking’ Roma institute opens in Berlin

Sead Kazanxhiu is a 30-year-old visual artist at the forefront of a ‘groundbreaking’ new institute located in Berlin. Earlier this month, the European city launched its first ever Roma cultural centre, a place that focuses and promotes the hidden artistic and cultural existence of Europe’s estimated 12 million Roma people.
Titled the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (Eriac), the institute will promote the Roma culture while it tries to tackle stereotypes, discrimination and the current hostility towards Roma communities across the globe.
It will be led by Roma artists, activists and scholars and is supported by the German government, the Council of Europe and the philanthropist George Soros’s Open Society Foundation.
Artist Sead Kazanxhiu, who trained as a painter at the University of Arts in Tirana, has suffered discrimination for his Roma roots in his native Albania for much of his life. However, despite being at the receiving end of much hatred, he has always dreamt of equality.
He told the Guardian that he hoped one day he would “be considered equal to those around me. It was the same dream as our forefathers. To not have to hide our identity in order to survive.
“We’ve been living in Europe for 600 years. Now for the first time we have a place we can call our own and the chance to present the image of who we are, rather than others doing it for us.”
Timea Junghaus, a Hungarian Roma curator, activist and Eriac’s executive director, has highlighted the Roma contribution to Europe, claiming that only one of the approximate 10,000 works by Roma artists is shown in a permanent exhibition. This single piece of art – a painting by Hungarian artist István Szentandrássy – hangs in the Roma parliament in Budapest. According to Ms Junghaus, this statistic provides us with an idea of the scale in which change must happen.
“The stereotypical view of us is as a romanticised, sexualised, criminal people. The effect is false and destructive. Now we’re claiming our own right to represent ourselves,” she explained. “Self-expression will hopefully challenge these long-held assumptions and prejudices.”
Germany’s government has said that it will support the institute indefinitely as it hopes to play a part in rebuilding the Roma cultural legacy. It is believed that during the Holocaust, a staggering 500,000 European Roma were murdered by the Nazis.
The launch of the Roma institute comes following the resurrection of a memorial to the murdered Sinti and Roma cultures, which was erected in Berlin in 2012.
Organisers of the Eriac hope that it will act as a Roma hub and meeting point for artists and intellectuals, while also acting as a point of contact for festivals, galleries, museums and other institutions seeking partnerships or materials for exhibitions.