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July 21, 2018
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Gallery in Czech capital to host discussion about new memorial commemorating the Romani genocide

13.4.2018 16:30
A model of the former so-called
A model of the former so-called "Gypsy Camp" at Lety u Písku. (PHOTO: archive)

On Wednesday 18 April at 18:00 the VI PER Gallery is holding a discussion entitled "Building a memorial at the site of a former concentration camp at Lety". The aim of the discussion is to answer questions about the arrangements for the site of the former concentration camp and its new memorial.

"While handing the grounds of the former pig farm over to the Museum of Romani Culture is symbolically an immeasurably important moment, the periodically repeating remarks by politicians casting doubt on the camp and its prisoners' suffering reveal that Lety is still a contentious issue. The existence of the pig farm has empowered a more general dispute about the interpretation of the history of the camp and its place in the telling of Czech history," the organizers say.

The discussion will focus on the future arrangements for the site of the former concentration camp and the new memorial to be created there and will seek answers to the following questions: Whom is the memorial commemorating? How should that commemoration be enacted? For whom is the commemoration being performed? How should the memorial be built, given that there are still ongoing disputes, at different levels, about how to interpret the location and its role in the collective memory? What functions - artistic, educational, commemorative, etc. - should the memorial fulfill?

The discussion will also touch on the assumed timeframe for building the memorial and on opportunities for experts and local residents to participate in the process - it is precisely the issues of participation and timeframe that one of the panelists, Pavel Sterec of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Brno University of Technology, considers a crucial subject. "This is an urgent problem," Sterec told news server

"After the awarding of this assignment to the winner of the competition, there will not be many ways to adjust it. I would like the discussion to move from the purchase of the farm itself and defending the existence of a new memorial to the conditions for the memorial's creation, the concepts and ideals that will anchor it," Sterec said.

"Despite the impressions that may have been given by the previous public discussions, this is not the correct methodology for participatory planning, no commission has been established to professionally, responsibly formulate the architecture competition's assignment. The demand for fast planning  and the absence of financing (from the Czech Culture Ministry) to cover the professional labor and production work is undermining the opportunity to create this memorial in a way that corresponds to its importance," Sterec said.

Other panelists will be the art critic and historian Anežka Bartlová from the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design; the director of the Museum of Romani Culture, Jana Horváthová, who is an ethnographer and historian; and the editor and historian Čeněk Pýcha of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes; while the discussion will be moderated by historian Pavel Baloun of the Faculty of Humanities at Charles University and the Wiener Wiesenthal Institut. The VI PER Gallery describes its mission as combining the subjects of architecture and art with those of broader social problems.

According to their website, VI PER Gallery is focused on architecture in the broadest sense of the term and its connections and intersections with contemporary art, urban development, design, media, and technology, as well as with the contexts of politics, law, society, the economy and the environment. The discussion about building the memorial is being held as part of the auxiliary program to the gallery's exhibition "Forensic Architecture: The Architecture of Conflict".

ROMEA o.p.s. is also holding discussions about the new memorial. In collaboration with the Museum of Romani Culture, a debate on the subject of the memorial has been scheduled for 25 April at 17:00 in the cultural hall of the Municipal Office in Lety u Písku.

Through this debate, the Museum would like to create room primarily for local residents to ask anything they like in relation to the current situation at the site and to discuss the possible future involvement of the Memorial with the municipality. One month later, on 21 May, ROMEA will hold yet another discussion with the Prague Forum for Romani Histories and the Museum of Romani Culture entitled "Holocaust of the Roma: Contemporary Research in Czechoslovak Context."

That debate will relate not just to Lety, but to the entire region of the former Czechoslovakia and panelists will focus on historical research into the Holocaust of the Roma and how it overlaps with activism and commemoration. That discussion will be part of an auxiliary program to the exhibition of paintings by the architect and fine artist Zdeněk Daniel entitled “My Black-and-White Shadows, or memento mori

Eva Zdařilová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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