Slovakia: Artist involves Romani volunteers in revitalizing apartments
Artist Tomáš Rafa, the winner of the 2011 Oskar Čepan Prize, has painted an apartment building in the Nová ulice settlement near the village of Sečovce together with activists and Romani volunteers. The work is a continuation of his long-term project called "Walls of Sports", during which artists and the residents of Romani settlements have been painting the segregation walls throughout eastern Slovakia in recent years in order to draw attention to the isolation of the Romani minority from the majority society there.
The activist art project has been responding to racism and social exclusion since 2011. The impulse for it was the building of a segregation wall in the town of Michalovce in 2009.
Ever since then, Rafa and local volunteers have painted such walls in the communities of Ostrovany, Sečovce and Velká Ida. This year he returned to the excluded locality in Sečovce to move the project concept forward by painting the entrance to one of the apartment buildings in the settlement, where approximately 900 people live on the edge of poverty.
"Through this form of revitalization of the public space in the Romani settlement of Nová ulice we want to point out the abysmal differences between the majority society and those living in extreme poverty," Rada explains. Local children and Romani students from the construction trade school in Sečovce participated in repairing the space.
During the first few days the entryway was cleaned and garbage was removed from around the apartment house entrance. Trade school students then patched up holes in the wall plaster and local residents painted the entryway spaces on all floors of the building over the subsequent days.
"We came back here because this is where we worked best with the Romani community. The town leadership was also very helpful to us in 2012," Rafa says.
"I wanted to create the conditions for the tenants of this building to revitalize the public space through their own efforts. At the same time I wanted to maintain the previous results of the collaboration between civic association activists, Romani volunteers and the town administration," he says.
Rafa plans to return to Sečovce next year as well. "The focus of the project was to start a process of change in socially excluded communities that would continue into the future. The coming year will show whether this way of motivating people makes sense," he said.
The artist and filmmaker has also focused on the topic of political extremism, not just in Slovakia, but in the Czech Republic and Poland. He is a graduate of the Academy of Art in Banská Bystrica, Slovakia and the Academy of Fine Art in Warsaw.
In 2011 Rafa won the Oskar Čepan Prize for his "New Nationalism in the Heart of Europe" project. For several years he has been filming a video series and taking photographs investigating the problems of coexistence between majority societies and minorities and the line between extremism and patriotism.
Rafa often finds himself at the center of events and urban conflict as he travels to undertake his politically engaged artistic activities, most often in public spaces. He is the author of a project designing a Czech-Roma flag, which news server Romea.cz has previously reported on here.
The current project in Sečovce is supported by the Art Aktivista civic association, the Peripheral Center (Periferní centra), the Slovak Culture Ministry, and the Truc sphérique civic association. More details are available on the New Nationalism website.
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