Thursday, February 21, 2008

In God's Hands

I learned a lot about the Romani people while working on this project. The images are pictures I took in Romania last June. I knew that gypsies were really discriminated against in Europe and had been for centuries. I didn't know the history but, I saw first hand how even Christians looked suspiciously at anyone who bore the mark of the Romani.

The discrimination goes back well over a thousand years ago when a Persian Shah imported 10,000 Indian musicians, beginning a half century of enslavement and conquest of this ethnic group. Romani people spread throughout Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries. They were a nomadic people whose culture included many customs from their Hindu pasts and their mobile economy. In the 16th century state approved discrimination took over much of "Christian" Europe. The Romani people were branded as thieves, witches, kidnappers, and worse. Anti-gypsy laws allowed states to brand, enslave, and excute any gypsy--man, woman, or child. Interestingly, while most Roma were banished, enslaved, or murdered by the state, musicians often escaped by providing entertainment to royalty, thereby perserving the Romani culture and language. It wasn't until the 19th century that Romani emancipation began in Europe.

While the Roma were finally recognized as an ethnic group rather than a criminal element, persecution continued well into the 20th century. Gyspies were among those murdered by Hitler, along with Jews and Blacks because they were considered to have "alien blood". In Sweden, the Romani were subject to forced sterilization. Education was denied until the late 1960s to any Roma unless the family settled into one location and worked a conventional (and socially acceptable) job. It wasn't until 1981 that the Romani were given equal status as all other minorities in Europe.

Even today the Roma are despised by many Europeans. Although many laws now grant equality, society often does not.

This repression and persecution is evident in the Romani proverbs, which is where this journey began for me. I thought it would be a nice addition to the digital art to include a traditional gyspy proverb, so I began an on-line search for something about divine protections or something to that effect. What I found instead were proverbs like, "He who wants to enslave you will never tell you the truth about your forefathers" and "Bury me standing, I've been on my knees my whole life." "One mad man makes many madmen: many madmen make madness" is a proverb that came up time after time in on-line searches.

I finally chose to use a Romanian proverb: "I am in God's hands" as my text in this particular piece of artwork.

The Romani are a romantic people whose love of music is evident in the proverb: "Stay where there are songs." The best summary of this ethnic and cultural people, however, is simply this: "We are all wanderers on this earth. Our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are deep with dreams."

Works referenced:

1 comment:

Valonda L. said...

Wow, I am so pleased to have stumbled across your website. This is so fascinating, and I love the art piece. Thanks for doing all this research.