rosa cisneros – what a picture is worth

Mass media offers up little in the way of positive imagery when it comes to the Romani community. The female body on screen is even more problematic and the image of the Roma woman is one that sits in two extremes, either being highly romanticised or painted as a criminal or beggar. Such stereotypes are harmful to the community and require members from within to offer counter narratives to challenge these accepted norms.

In April 2015 C-DaRE’s Romani Week Festival included a photo exhibition which was a three way partnership between photographer Antony Weir, the Roma Project Organisation and me. The photo exhibition was born out of a deep appreciation and respect for the Romanian Roma families who are located in the city of Coventry. More info can be found at https://rosasencis.org/portfolio/691. The exhibition “Family Matters/Chestiuni de familie” was curated to bring people from all walks of life together and to offer a positive image of the local Romanian Roma community. Rarely do we see people for who they are and “Family Matters” offered just that, a glimpse into the lives of the stereotyped families. The exhibition was up for 8 months and viewed by thousands of people however, only covered by one journalist, although many were invited to the opening.

Another positive example of an organisation that is carrying out work that is pushing boundaries and promoting role models and positive images of the community is the Drom Kotar Mestipen Roma Women’s Association (DKM) located in Barcelona, Spain. The DKM was created in 1999 by a group of Roma and non-Roma women of different ages, studies, professional profiles and socio-economic levels with a common objective: to fight for Equality and non-discrimination of Roma women, promoting their participation in educational, social and cultural spaces.

The founders of the Drom Kotar Mestipen defined the following objectives of the association:

  • Work to achieve equality and non-discrimination between women and men within the Roma community.
  • Overcoming the double discrimination suffered by Roma women (based on gender and ethnicity) as well as racism and sexism as a whole.
  • Collaborate with other associations and organisations struggling to achieve equality based on respect for and promotion of their own differences.
  • Promote and enable equal access of Roma women and girls to all educational, social and labor spaces as a means of promoting equal rights, opportunities and outcomes among all cultures.
  • To promote the image of the Roma woman as the transmitter and promoter of the Roma cultural identity.

The Drom Kotar Mestipen is busy organising the Second International Roma Women’s Congress and in late January 2017, women from Greece, Romania, Serbia, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic and Germany met in Barcelona, Spain for a pre-congress meeting. The meeting brought together Roma and non-Roma women from a grassroots level to discuss education, feminism, labour market inclusion and the image of the Roma Woman in mainstream media. It was agreed that the Second Congress would include a space to discuss how the arts can help shape the narratives around the Roma woman and include exhibitions that reflect pivotal moments in the community’s history and challenge the accepted stereotypes. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words and the arts can be an entry point to discuss these highly charged topics.

– Rosa Cisneros

Image credits: RosaSenCis Photography, KoZin Photography, DKM Photography

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