Per la Polonia è stata scelta l'artista Małgorzata Mirga-Tas (Zakopane, 1978)
Dal sito della Cultura Polonia
Małgorzata Mirga-Tas is a Polish-Romani visual artist, sculptor, painter, educator and activist. Born in 1978, she lives and works in Czarna Góra, a Romani village at the foot of the Tatra Mountains.
Małgorzata Mirga-Tas started her artistic career with sculpture, which she studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków under Józef Sękowski. As a student, she developed a characteristic authorial sculptural technique using cardboard as the base material. She sculpted in the glued layers, using the pale brown colour of the material and the clear texture of the cardboard and glue. She gave form to the sculptures by cutting and modelling blocks of glued cardboard with a chain saw, grinder and drill and bracing them with metal and wooden supports. In this technique, she created semi-abstract and surreal depictions of animals, combining everyday life with the extraordinary, somewhat resemblant of the later hybrid-like creatures from Daniel Rycharski’s Rural Street Art. Her diploma work also included a Romani theme, which was later to become the leading theme of her art. Mirga-Tas comes from the Bergitka Roma tribe, which has the longest traditions of living in settlements, dating back to the pre-partition era. The artist herself also finally settled in her hometown of Czarna Góra, on the border of Spiš and Podhale.
Her 2004 diploma work titled Caravan is a slightly ornamented Romani caravan, fragile and somewhat melancholic. Although sculpted out of cardboard, it was still inspired by the visuality of the nomadic lifestyle of the Romani people, which was drastically transformed and regulated by their forced settlement in 1964. The artist’s newer works depict a world no longer clinging to the past known from Jerzy Ficowski’s texts but the lives of Romani communities in permanent settlements. They document both the changes and the longevity of social models developed over the centuries, with community activities not limited by the confines of four walls.
With time, cardboard sculptures began to give way to drawings and paintings in which the monochromaticity of cardboard was replaced by an explosion of colour and ornamentation. Decorative, almost purely ornamental compositions, with floral motifs were accompanied by equally decorative portraits in which human silhouettes melted together with ornaments. Finally, a narrative element appeared in her representations of members of Romani communities, and portraits of individuals replaced portraits of Romani communities.
In genre scenes, Mirga-Tas not only stayed true to her passion for decorativeness but even developed it, complicating the Baroque texture of the heavy paintings with patterned fabrics, sequins, feathers or playing cards. Thanks to them, the flat scenes built with clear contours gained optical depth and began to sparkle or almost vibrate in a slightly pop-art fashion. The fragments of fabrics used are not incidental – they often come from clothes once worn by people dear to the artist, such as family members and friends. What might seem to be a mere ornament adorning the depicted scene is therefore sometimes a most realistic and somewhat intimate element, not simply presented in the painting but transferred onto it directly from reality – like a woman’s skirt made of a piece of skirt actually worn by the portrayed.
Despite the decorativeness, the scenes presented by the artist are not idealised and romanticised but are firmly set in reality in almost a journalistic fashion. We see an old woman lost in thought and smoking a cigarette on the stairs to a house, a game of cards, the hanging up of laundry, sewing or chatting at the table. Apart from people, there are also many animals – hens walking around the courtyards, a goat sticking its head out from under the kitchen table. The apparent documentary style is accompanied by an element of creation, not only in synthesising and ornamenting scenes but also in combining characters who, for example, in reality, come from different neighbourhoods. In works made exclusively from stitched pieces of fabric, the figures of people and animals detach themselves from their surroundings and drift in the abstracted decorative space (where a rooster can outgrow a human in size) with no limitations.
Thus, the artist does not create a ‘sociological record’ in the style of Zofia Rydet; she does not catalogue all the elements of life and visual culture of Romani settlements but only provides us with selected snapshots observed from within the Romani community, combining realism with building an expressive visual dictionary of Romani culture. As she herself admits, at one point she was inspired by the so-called Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s. In Mirga-Tas’ works, one can also see a kinship with Kerry James Marshall’s contemporary painting, which in a similar way reclaims the visuality of Afro-American culture, liberated from the colonial gaze.
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Mirga-Tas' strategy is a kind of insider ethnography that in its own way continues and responds to the work of her uncle Andrzej Mirga, an ethnographer who studied the Romani community from within. As the artist said 'he […] came from this world, spoke its language, visited places he knew well, where his family lived, photographed people who trusted him'. The photographs by Andrzej Mirga became the starting point for the exhibition The Right to Look at the Szara Kamienica Gallery in Kraków, curated by Wojciech Szymański and Delaine Le Bas. In her art, Małgorzata Mirga-Tas returns to the same neighbourhoods several decades later.
In addition to contemporary topics, Mirga-Tas’s work takes up one of the most important themes in the history of the Roma, although it is almost absent from the broader discourse – Porajmos (a term popularised by Ian Hancock meaning ‘the Devouring’), or the Romani Holocaust. In 2011, in Borzęcin Dolny, the artist created the wooden Monument to the Memory of the Holocaust of the Romani (Gypsies), with the silhouettes of a falling man and woman, to commemorate the local victims of Nazi crimes – the Romani people were one of the two ethnic groups, next to the Jews, designated by the Nazis for complete liquidation; according to estimates, the number of victims of the Porajmos may reach from two hundred thousand to half a million people. On the initiative of Adam Bartosz, the long-term director of the Tarnów District Museum and a researcher of Romani culture, the monument was erected in a forest, at the site where, in July 1942, the Nazis executed 29 Romani. The scale of the silence on the topic of the Romani victims of Nazism is attested to by the fact that this is the world’s first figural monument to commemorate the extermination. Anti-Romani prejudices became apparent when the monument was destroyed by unknown perpetrators in 2016. Soon, a copy was erected in the same place, while the artist kept the fragmented remains of the original as a separate work, involuntarily updated by the act of xenophobic vandalism.
Małgorzata Mirga-Tas is also active as an organiser, educator and activist. During her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts, she joined the ‘Harangos’ Romani Educational Association, which is active in the education of Romani children and youth. Together with the photographer Marta Kotlarska, she has been implementing the project Romani Snap for several years, constituting workshops for children teaching them the pinhole photography technique. Together with two other artists from the Bergitka Roma – Bogumiła Delimata and Krzysztof Gil – she founded the Romani Art movement in 2007.
In the same year, the Roma Pavilion was included in the 52nd Venice Biennale, a major milestone in the struggle for the visibility of art created by Romani artists, which has existed in a kind of limbo for decades – breaking both from the tendencies that dominate the official narratives of contemporary art and from the ideas about folk art, and consequently ignored by researchers of both. Timea Junghaus, the curator of the first Roma Pavilion in Venice, wrote:
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The concept of Romani contemporary art is one of the greatest achievements of the Roma emancipation movement launched in Europe in the late 1960s. The movement was critical of the more than six-hundred-year-old practices which resulted in the Roma becoming victims of depictions created exclusively by non-Roma. The iconography of European art has thrown them, as ‘Gypsies’, into a conceptual ghetto – an imaginarium created on the basis of false premises and the same schemes – inhabited by wild people, criminals, welfare recipients, exotic prostitutes and beautiful children living in extreme poverty, yet happy.
The first Roma Pavilion was also unique because, unlike other pavilions that have made their debut in recent years, such as those dedicated to African countries, it went beyond the format of national representation shaped in the 19th century, in the ‘century of nations’ when the Biennale was founded.
Mirga-Tas is also the originator of the international open-air events called Jaw Dikh! (in English: 'come and see!') held in Czarna Góra between 2012 and 2016. The small mountain town was visited mainly, but not exclusively, by Romani artists, who had a chance to meet and connect with one another. The open-air workshops strengthening the transnational integration of Romani artists, although organised in inconspicuous circumstances, also played one of the key roles from the point of view of contemporary Roma art. In 2017, the artist also co-founded the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (Eriac) in Berlin.
29. Ćwiczenia Ceroplastyczne (29. Ceroplastic Exercises, 2020) is one of the most moving exhibitions created my Małgorzata Mirga-Tas. The artist created wax moulds of the monument figures and the remains of the damaged epitaph commemorating the extermination of the Romani people near Borzęcin Dolny. In the spring of 2016, perpetrators damaged the monument. Once again the Romani men and women were killed by Poles. The artist did not try to restore the original image of the monument or the sculptures, as she did before. What interested her was not a renewed commemoration of the concrete crime of the summer 1942 that occurred during the Samudaripen, but rather the commemoration of the very fact of destroying the monument, which was a sort of a symbolic murder as well as a historical reconstruction of the original crime. Thus the artist did not recombine the mutilated figures into a whole. Quite the opposite: she tended to the wounds, emphasizing their fragmentary character, fragility and precariousness of the remains. The material in which she moulded the remains is highly symbolic. Wax is a sculptural material ‘truer than the truth’ and since antiquity inseparably connected with veristic portrayal of the dead. At the same time, it is a material strongly featured in Romani culture, especially within the funeral and apotropaic practices; it was used for making magical sculptures presenting the corpse, devil and cross.
The exhibition Wyjście z Egiptu (Out of Egypt, 2021) organized by the Arsenal gallery in Bialystok comprised three series of works from the years 2016–2021. Two of them: Wesiune thana and 29 have been shown as part of collective and solo exhibitions at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin, Centre of Polish Sculpture in Orońsko, and the Sądecki Ethnographic Park in Nowy Sącz. Out of Egypt – the third series and inspiration for the title labelling the entire exposition – is an all-new sequence of monumental collages created as bespoke pieces for the show.
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All presented cycles explore themes typical for the artist’s entire oeuvre: the convoluted Roma and Roma-Polish identity, history of the Romani people, and transcultural and transnational experience of being a Roma. Concurrently, each of the series tells a different micro-story centered on an aspect essential from the artist’s vantage point. The Wesiune thana cycle deals with the issue of musealising Roma culture, and attempts at displaying it in the context of folk cultural heritage when the eponymous Out of Egypt refers to seventeenth-century etchings by printmaker Jacques Callot – scenes from the life of contem-poraneous Romani people.
Callot’s etchings known as La vie des Egyptiens (Life of the Egyptians) – and, therefore, the en-tire European iconographic tradition of presenting the Roma – have become a point of de-parture for Mirga-Tas’ new cycle of works. This goes to show that as early as in the 15th-century, artists had begun showing the Roma as a collective entity, Oriental-style. They were ethnographised, and duly construed as the Other of Europe. Combined with poverty, Oriental details in the attire were displayed as testimony to their non-European origin, well-deserved punishment of wandering travellers, and bitterness of having been banished from their homeland, likened with Egypt at the time. Other renderings were produced at the time, associating Egyptian-Gypsy garments with pursuits typical for the new arrivals. According to the collective portrait outlined in iconographic sources, the Roma were arrivals from the East, pickpockets, thieves, con-men, and ever so slightly bizarre vagrants and beggars. n a gesture of artistic appropriation, Małgorzata Mirga-Tas processes historical representations of the Romani people, all of which without exception – a fact of immense importance – created by non-Roma artists. Therefore, deprived of Roma self-portraits or narratives of how the Ro-mani people perceived themselves, the artists explores a retrospective and phantasmatic at-tempt at (re)creating and restituting the image. In an ironic reference to non-Roma visual tes-timonies of the past, she further proceeds to undermine stereotypes built over the years – metaphorically leaving Egypt.
Małgorzata Mirga-Tas combines various techniques to talk about identity and show the daily life of her community. The artist is the winner of Paszporty Polityki 2020 "for art that effectively, remarkably and wisely talks about identity and heritage. For the continued search of prevailing values and universals in Romani tradition."
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Selected solo exhibitions:
2021 – Wyjście z Egiptu (Out of Egypt), Arsena Gallery, Białystok
2020 – 29. Ćwiczenia ceroplastyczne (29. Ceroplastic Exercises), Centre of Polish Sculpture in Orońsko
2019 – Side Thawenca: Sewn with Threads, Antoni Rząsa Gallery, Zakopane
2018 – Medzi Svetmi, Diera do Sveta, Liptovský Mikuláš, Slovakia
2017 – On the Border, Polish Institute, Bratislava, Slovakia ; On the Road - Andro Drom, Mathare Art Gallery, Nairobi, Kenya
2016 – Małgorzata Mirga-Tas, Nationaltheater, Skopje, Macedonia
2011 – Małgorzata Mirga-Tas, Schindler Factory, Kraków
Selected group exhibitions:
2020/2021 – Warsaw Under Construction 12 Something in Common, Museum on the Vistula, Warsaw
2020 – 11. Berlin Biennale the crack begins within, KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin
2019 – Third Art Biennial in Timișoara, Romania; 44th Biennale of Painting Bielsko Autumn, Bielsko-Biała; Speaking in One’s Own Voice, Promocyjna Gallery, Warsaw
2018 – The Right to Look, Szara Kamienica Gallery, Kraków
2017 – Transcending the Past, Shaping the Future, ERIAC, Berlin, Niemc; The Universe Is Black, Moravian Gallery, Brno, Czech Republic; 42nd Biennial of Painting Bielsko Autumn, Bielsko-Biała
2016 – pany chłopy chłopy pany, BWA Sokół, Sądecki Ethnographic Park, Nowy Sącz; Kali Berga, Księgarnia | Exhibition, Kraków
2011 – International Sculpture Symposium, Bratislava, Slovakia; Romani Art, Ethnographic Museum, Warsaw
2008 – Romani Art, Ethnographic Museum, Tarnów