Venice Biennale display promoting Poland’s Roma community hailed as ‘stupendous’
Premiering at the weekend to rave reviews from the international art press, Poland’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale has captivated visitors whilst simultaneously thrusting the country’s Roma community into the spotlight.
Breaking boundaries in the process, the project was prepared by Małgorzata Mirga-Tas, the first Romani artist to ever represent Poland at the prestigious event.
Hailing from Czarna Góra at the foot of the Tatra Mountains, her exhibition has been described as “unmissable” and “triumphant” by Art Net and “stupendous” by The Observer.
The New York Times, meanwhile, declared her as being one of only two artists that “have risen completely for the occasion”.
Titled ‘Re-enchanting the World’, the pavilion has proved to be one of the principal talking points of the Biennale, with the artist herself thrilled by the feedback.
Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, she said: “I am deeply honoured to represent Poland, but I do not only represent Polish art. I am here as a representative of the Roma community and Roma art as well.
“This show tells many stories. One is about how we as the Roma are perceived, how we have been depicted and how we depict ourselves. Another strand concerns the great Roma women I admire.
“Finally, this is a story about my family and the life of my community in Czarna Góra. In this sense, it is a story about myself. This is the first time in the history of the Biennale that a Roma artist is able to tell her own story with her own voice – or, in fact, with her own hands.”
A graduate of Poland’s oldest art institute, the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, Mirga-Tas has used her Venetian platform to challenge stereotypes while presenting her unfiltered and unbiased viewpoint.
“In the life of every human being, there is a need for magic and enchantment,” she says. “However, at certain times we need to disenchant… Selecting a few topic related to the representation of the Romani people, I’ve tried to demythologise them by reversing how we are seen.”
To do so, Mirga-Tas has presented an enormous frieze spanning all sides of the pavilion. First creating it inside an abandoned hotel in Zakopane, she was aided by a trio of colleagues who worked on twelve fabrics in all, each split into three distinct tiers.
On the top, she chose to mimic the 17th century anti-Roma engravings of the Lorraine printmaker Jacques Callot, only swapping his negative stereotypes with imagery designed to showcase the rich heritage and mythology of the Romani culture.
Below, the middle section has been dubbed as being “an archive of Romani history”, only one illustrated from a female perspective. Here, Mirga-Tas has referred to her ‘Herstories’ series and dedicated space to the important women in her life whilst intertwining these depictions with both tarot and zodiac symbols.
By merging real women with such magical elements, Mirga-Tas says she hoped to elevate these everyday heroines to appear like Goddesses.
Finally, on the bottom level, the artist has chosen to depict scenes of everyday life from her home village, once more with a heavy female orientation.
Somewhat fittingly given the Biennale’s location, the entire project was heavily inspired by the Hall of the Months fresco inside Ferrara’s Palazzo Schifanoia. Accordingly, the palace’s interiors, layout and general form were also utilised by Mirga-Tas to act as “visual and ideological reference points”.
Keen to stay true to her people and her roots, many of the fabrics used by her were taken from the clothes worn by the women depicted.
Striking in its scope, message, ambition and aesthetics, the success of ‘Re-enchanting the World’ has vindicated last year’s decision to hand Mirga-Tas the honour of representing Poland.
Selected last September by a jury appointed by the Minister of Culture, Piotr Gliński, at the time the panel went on the record to say: “The jury noted the project’s unusually attractive visual form combined with an original and deliberate ideological concept ‘proposing a new narrative about the constant migration of images and mutual influences between Roma, Polish and European cultures’.
“The project intertwines in a creative way the artist’s personal experience and local stories with, among others, the tradition of Renaissance wall painting, at the same time combining private iconography with symbolism and allegory from centuries ago.”