The German Federal Cultural Foundation supports the establishment of a digital archive of the arts of the Roma. Since January 2019 RomArchive is an internationally accessible space that makes the cultures and histories of the Roma visible. From 2015 to 2019, an international collection of art from all disciplines has been gathered, enhanced by scholarly texts and historical documents and accompanied by a programme of educational and cultural events. Each section of RomArchive has its own expert team of curators, responsible for that section’s contents. RomArchive makes no claims to completeness, but sees itself as a continuously growing platform featuring representative collections. With its curated contents, modern storytelling, and intelligent contextualisation, RomArchive differs from static databases in both aesthetics and methodology.
While “hegemonic” archives have almost exclusively portrayed Roma in stereotypical ways, RomArchive focuses on their self-representation. New narratives will emerge, reflecting the heterogeneity of the Roma’s diverse national and cultural identities. The wealth of their artistic and cultural production – tightly interwoven with that of Europe as a whole, centuries old, lively and varied to this very day – will become publicly accessible and visible. RomArchive is thus addressed not only to Europe’s largest minority, but also to Europe’s social majorities.
The idea for RomArchive is based on extensive research and numerous interviews that the project initiators Franziska Sauerbrey and Isabel Raabe conducted with Roma artists, curators, activists, and scholars all over Europe. All clearly identified the need for an internationally accessible space that would make the cultures and histories of the Roma visible and respond to recurrent stereotypes by a counter-history told by Roma themselves.
There are about 12 million Roma living in Europe. Their cultural heterogeneity, diverse citizenship, and varied history notwithstanding, they form the largest European minority of common origin. Distributed across the majority populations of the world, they often live on the margins of society, sometimes integrated or even completely assimilated.
However, a study by Markus End from 2014, commissioned by the Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma, shows that media coverage still follows well-trodden paths of discrimination and criminalisation. Positive counter-images and reliable information about the Roma’s culture and reality of life are scarce. Instead, perceptions are based on attributions and images projected from without, perennially shaped by a combination of fascination and contempt. Tales of the “travelling people”, their ferality and fervour, have been told and retold down to the present day. But in point of fact, the social majority knows very little about the Roma.
What the public misperceives as Roma culture is, for the most part, nothing but poverty. Other realities, like that of the Sinti, who have lived in Germany for centuries, are hardly noticed.
The Central Council of German Sinti and Roma and its associated Documentation and Cultural Centre have long campaigned for the minority’s rights and recognition. In 2012, these efforts culminated in the inauguration of the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe Murdered under the National Socialist Regime. There are also quite a number of programmes in Europe that fight racism, promote tolerance, and seek to protect ethnic minorities. Notably, 12 EU member countries signed a declaration to take part in the “Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005–2015”, committing to increased efforts against discrimination and towards the Roma’s economic and social empowerment. Regrettably, the initiative has contributed little to improving the Roma’s situation, perhaps also because Roma had not been included in decision-making bodies.
By supporting the Digital Archive and Forum of the Roma, the Federal Cultural Foundation also wants to send a signal: one of the largest foundations under public law attends to Europe’s largest minority, acknowledges the wealth of their centuries-old culture, and makes it public. The fact that a German federal institution embraces such a project is of particular significance in view of the Porajmos – the holocaust against the Roma, which claimed 500,000 of their lives.
An international team of curators will be responsible for the design and contents of RomArchive’s individual sections. Isaac Blake, dancer, choreographer and director of the Romani Cultural & Arts Company in the UK is curator for dance. The film section is curated by the filmmaker Katalin Bársony, director of Romedia Foundation, a Hungarian Roma NGO. The Austrian literary theorist Beate Eder-Jordan is curator for literature. The US-based Czech ethnomusicologist, musician, and Roma activist Petra Gelbart curates the archive section music. Curatorial responsibility for the theatre and drama section lies with Dragan Ristić, singer of the rock band Kal—he studied drama and has published on the history of Roma theatre—and co-curator Miguel Ángel Vargas, art historian, theatre director, actor, and musician. Tímea Junghaus, art historian and curator of the international Roma Pavilion ‘Paradise Lost’ at the 52nd Venice Biennial, is responsible for the visual arts section. An interdisciplinary section dedicated to Flamenco is being curated by the musicologist Gonzalo Montaño Peña. The archive section Politics of Photography is curated by the photographer and curator André Raatzsch. An additional section – under the responsibility of scholars Thomas Acton, Angéla Kóczé, Anna Mirga and Jan Selling – will hold scholarly articles on the civil rights movement of Roma in Europe; it will also present early first-person testimonies of Roma persecuted under the National Socialist regime, gathered by historian Karola Fings in the context of her project “Voices of the Victims”.
An international advisory board will support and advise the curators and determine strategic project guidelines. Its members are individual artists, scholars, and activists: Pedro Aguilera Cortés, political scientist, Spain; Gerhard Baumgartner, historian, Austria; Nicoleta Bitu (Chair), president of the Democratic Federation of Roma from Romania, Romania; Klaus-Michael Bogdal (Deputy Chair), literary theorist, Germany; Ethel Brooks, sociologist, USA; Ágnes Daróczi, activist, Hungary; Merfin Demir (Deputy Chair), Terno Drom – Interkulturelle Jugendselbstorganisation von Roma und Nicht-Roma in Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany; Jana Horváthová, Museum of Romani Culture, Czech Republic; Zeljko Jovanovic, Roma Initiatives Office, Hungary; Oswald Marschall, Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma, Germany; Moritz Pankok, Gallery Kai Dikhas, Germany; Romani Rose, Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma, Germany; Riccardo M Sahiti, conductor, Serbia / Germany; Anna Szász, European Roma Cultural Foundation, Hungary.
RomArchive – Digital Archive of the Roma is funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation.
The European Roma Cultural Foundation and the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma have acted in an advisory capacity from the initial stages of planning. The Goethe-Institut and the German Federal Agency for Civic Education also support RomArchive. RomArchive is also supported by the Federal Foreign Office.
The Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek is the cooperative partner and is responsible for the technical implementation. For international accessibility, the archive will be set up in several languages. Besides English and German, the Romani language will be used. Translations into additional languages are envisaged, depending on funding by the countries in which they are predominantly spoken.
The Berlin-based organisation “sauerbrey | raabe gUG” is responsible for developing the RomArchive during the set-up phase. RomArchive went online in January 2019. The project’s initiators Isabel Raabe and Franziska Sauerbrey will permanently transfer responsibility of the RomArchive to a European Sinti and Roma organisation. To ease this transition, the German Federal Agency for Civic Education has already pledged to ensure editorial maintenance of RomArchive for an additional five years, beginning in 2019.