With “Barvalo”, the MuCEM composes a hymn to Romani cultures

“Out of Egypt” (2021), by Malgorzata Mirga-Tas.

Planted halfway, a caravan without wheels summarizes the great journey that led to the realization of the exhibition dedicated to Roma, Gypsies, Sinti and Manouches, presented at the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations (MuCEM) , in Marseille, until September 4. Inside, an English porcelain service awaits, in an overloaded setting. This scenography which resembles life says it all: the nostalgia for travel in a sedentary life, the codes of a culture whose nobility has long been denied, the claim of the heirs who rediscover their history and exhibit it as a wealth and a pride.

Proud is precisely the meaning of the word “barvalo”, chosen as the title of the exhibition. Under the impetus of an American anthropologist, Jonah Steinberg, with the curators of the Marseille Museum, the Romani, from several groups and communities, have for the first time collaborated to renew, together, the representation that they have conveyed for centuries. .

When Julia Ferloni, curator at the MuCEM, speaks in 2018 with Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka, who directs the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture, in Berlin, she is first on her guard. “I was both happy and worried, remembers the anthropologist. Art and literature have conveyed so many stereotypes about us…”

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Tossed around through the centuries, from India to Europe, exhibited like fairground beasts at the Jardin d’acclimatation, in Paris, in 1913, reduced to objects of anthropometric studies before being exterminated in the Nazi camps , the Travelers had not yet had the right to an exhibition that resembled them. “In fact, we don’t exist. And when we exist, it is through the discourse of historians or academics. We are permanently under supervision”summarizes the gypsy writer Jacques Debot, former parliamentary assistant to Arnaud Montebourg.

“Finding a common language”

Not easy, however, to give shape to fragmented communities, which have never claimed political autonomy within the framework of a State. The associative fabric itself is fragmented, even divided. “It took us a year to find a common language and accept divergent points of view”recognizes William Acker, general delegate of the National Association of Traveler Citizens.

At the time of choice, the experts immediately dismissed the series of Gorgan, a family of Gypsies from Arles that the photographer Mathieu Pernot followed over the long term. Exhibited in 2017 at the Rencontres d’Arles, then the following year in “Gypsy Worlds, the Image Factory: A Photographic History, 1860-1980”, at the Museum of the History of Immigration, without ever being controversial, these photos now offend the Romani. (Those) representing a naked girl are outrageous and no explanation will do anything about it”strikes, implacable, Jacques Debot.

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