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Artist exhibits designs for new Czech-Roma flag

Prague, 16.7.2013 23:52, (ROMEA)
Tomáš Rafa (collage by Romea.cz)
Tomáš Rafa (collage by Romea.cz)

The latest exhibition at the Artwall Gallery in Prague presents seven designs for a new Czech-Roma flag created by Slovak artist Tomáš Rafa. The project, entitled "Selection Procedure for Czech-Roma Flag" ("Výběrové řízení na česko-romskou vlajku") critically responds to the current situation in which Romani people are not considered Czechs by the majority society and find themselves in forced isolation.

"Selection Procedure for Czech-Roma Flag" is part of a long-term project called "New Nationalism in the Heart of Europe" through which Rafa has been investigating the boundaries between nationalism, patriotism, racism and xenophobia since 2009. "At a certain point in 2008, ultra-right groups decided to enter electoral politics. In Slovakia it was Slovak Solidarity (Slovenská pospolitosť - SP), in Bohemia it was the Workers' Party (Dělnická strana - DS). Even though both parties were dissolved by the courts for promoting racism and xenophobia, they both continue to exist in different forms. I began mapping this situation and keeping an archive online of recordings from the actions held by Czech, Polish and Slovak extremists and neo-Nazis," Rafa told news server Aktuálně.cz in an interview.

The aim of the current project, according to Rafa, is to create an open platform to discuss the current and future coexistence between the majority population and minorities in the Czech Republic. "I want to remove this discussion from the realm of nationalist groups and bring it into a broader public space. The flag can be an impulse for that discussion. At demonstrations discussions are not held. I want to spark dialogue without aggressive approaches," Rafa said.

"In 2012 I did some murals on some of the segregationist 'sports walls' in the towns of Michalovce, Ostrovany, and Sečovce in Slovakia. I am painting on the walls because I believe it is important that they remain visible in the landscape. I originally wanted to install large-format photos of Romani children playing football on the wall in Michalovce, but the town hall rejected that proposal. Of course, we reached agreement on a different format, but even that didn't last very long and the town councilors had it painted over. So I went somewhere else. I spent 20 days in Romani settlements and my view of the people who live there completely changed. From the first moment, the settlement occupants collaborated with us in an absolutely unreal way, and so I decided to create some sort of symbol of our collaboration, and a Romani-Slovak flag occurred to me. I had one made and on 1 May I wanted to hang it up, I was interested in what the response would be, but for reasons I don't want to get into, that never happened. Then I discovered the Artwall Gallery, which accepted my flag concept, and we just modified it into a Czech-Romani one. The reason I chose the flag is basically because nationalist groups misuse the state flag at their demonstrations," Rafa said.

vlajky-artwall.jpg

The seven proposed flags exhibited in the Artwall Gallery and at the National Technical Library were selected from a series of several dozen designs. The selection was performed by a commission comprised of experts involved in Czech-Romani coexistence in various contexts:  Kumar Vishwanathan (human rights activist and director of the Life Together civic association), Lucie Horváthová (Green Party member), Zdeněk Ryšavý (director of the ROMEA civic association), Vojta Lavička (moderator and musician) and David Tišer (Romani studies scholar and member of the Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission on Roma Community Affairs), as well as an expert on the issue of flags, historian Jan Kremer.

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The general public has been able to  select the winning design of the new Czech-Romani flag. The public has had the option of voting for a particular design online on the Facebook profile of the Artwall Gallery and on the website of news server aktualne.cz, as well as through voting urns set up at the National Technical Library. Voting will also take place directly on the street through movable voting urns that have been installed in various locations around the Czech Republic by project organizers, particularly in localities with strong Romani representation. The selected flag will be given to the Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission for Roma Community Affairs, which falls under the Office of the Government, for its use. 

"This project will also open up the topic of the coexistence of Czech and Romani identities in the case of Romani people themselves," emphasizes Zuzana Štefková, a curator at Artwall Gallery. "Through this project we are asking the question of how Czech Roma perceive their 'Czechness', to what degree they identify with the Czech national identity represented by state symbols, or what it means to their identity that they live in Bohemia."

Another Artwall curator, Lenka Kukurová, said:  "These mixed flags point out the fact that the state is not an ethnically pure whole and challenge us to reflect on the concepts of nation and state. Not only Czechs live in the Czech Republic - other minorities are also at home here."

"Last but not least, the exhibition demonstrates the ambivalent character of the new options that information technology - online discussion forums and social networks - present to the public for the publication of opinions," summarized co-curator Markéta Dolejšová. The project also opens up many other questions concerning the relevance of state symbols in contemporary society and their misuse by neo-Nazi movements.

"Selection Procedure for Czech-Roma Flag" points out the absurdity of dividing people into Czechs and "others" and could also be considered unnecessary in and of itself. The final result of the whole project will depend on the choice of the Czech public.

"All of this is playing out at a symbolic level, but it could happen that people really start using the flag. It would really please me if the winning design was actually flown at the Office of the Government. Of course, that will be a process. I think this impulse will spread beyond the borders of the Czech Republic. We are offering a platform to people who want to communicate, who want to hold a dialogue," Rafa told news server Aktuálně.cz.

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About the exhibiting artist and the project

Tomáš Rafa (born 1979) lives and works in Warsaw. He studied at the Academy of Arts in Banská Bystrice, Slovakia in the studio of Digital Media and at the Fine Arts Academy in Warsaw. In 2011 he won the Oskár Čepan Prize and became artist-in-residence at the International Studio & Curatorial Program in New York. In 2012 he participated in the Berlin Biennale 7 as co-author of the "Breaking the News" project and as curator of the "Art Covers Politics" project. His first solo exhibition, "Respect Existence or Respect Resistance" took place in 2012 at the Slovak National Gallery in Bratislava. In 2013 he unveiled his project "Sports Walls/ New Nationalism in the Heart of Europe" as part of the Prague Biennale 6.

The project was initiated by the Center for Contemporary Art Prague. Currently the exhibition program is being realized by the civic association c2c (Circle of Curators and Critics). Project partners include the Capital City of Prague and the National Technical Library in Prague. Media partners of the project include Aktuálně.cz, Radio 1, A2, Artmap, Kulturissimo.cz, the Metro daily and Goout.

ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Czech republic, Extremism, Nacionalismus, Racism, Soužití, Sport, Výběrové řízení, Výstava, Xenofobie, zprávy, Aktivismus, Anticiganismus, diskuse, etnicita, fotografie, Kumar Vishwanathan, nepokoje, Občanská společnost, Ocenění, radnice, Romové, segregace, sociální vyloučení, Šíření nenávisti a nesnášenlivosti, Vzájemné soužití, Events, Neo-Nazism, news, Populism, Roma, Slovakia, Polsko



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