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A stitch in time



Jake Bowers travels to the Tajsa Roma Cultural Heritage Prize in Berlin to see how one European Romany organisation is fighting back in the culture wars - and winning


Renowned Polish Romani artist Małgorzata Mirga-Tas has been awarded the prestigious Biennial Tajsa Roma Cultural Heritage Prize 2023 by the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (ERIAC) in Berlin. The announcement was made last week at a ceremony held at the esteemed Maxim Gorki Theatre in Berlin.


Among the illustrious finalists competing for the prize were award-winning Budapest-based actors Franciska Farkas and Kristóf Horváth, French visual artist Gabi Jimenez, talented Swedish actor and singer Lindy Larsson, and Slovakian visual artist Emília Rigová, aka Bári Raklóri. However, Mirga-Tas stood out for her vibrant and self-assured Roma iconography, which has left an indelible mark on Roma’s cultural heritage.


Mirga-Tas’s exceptional work challenges stereotypes and engages in a critical dialogue with historical depictions of the Roma community. Her relentless dedication to reshaping narratives and fostering cultural dialogue within and beyond the Roma community has earned her this esteemed accolade.


A defining moment in Mirga-Tas’s career was her representation of Poland at the prestigious Venice Biennale in 2022. Her vibrant and affirming artistic creations challenged conventional perceptions and engaged viewers in a profound exploration of Roma’s identity. Notably, her bold and thought-provoking artwork served as a critical intervention in revising perspectives and conveying historical narratives.





The Tajsa Prize, accompanied by a 10,000-euro grant, celebrates exceptional individuals at the forefront of the contemporary Roma cultural movement. This esteemed award underscores Roma pride and illuminates the extraordinary talent of Roma cultural producers across various domains of arts and culture.


Accepting the award, Mirga-Tas expressed immense gratitude to those who nominated herself and the other finalists. She acknowledged the belief in their work and the shared mission to promote Roma heritage across Europe, stating, “There is still a lot to do and a lot to tell.”


ERIAC Executive Director Timea Junghaus congratulated Mirga-Tas for her exceptional achievements in advancing Roma cultural expressions and challenging societal norms. The selection process, led by an international jury, rigorously evaluated the contributions of the five remarkable finalists. Among them, Mirga-Tas stood out for her bold and transformative approach to redefining Roma cultural narratives.

 

The Tajsa Prize is the embodiment of Roma pride, creativity, virtuosity, and the outstanding talent of Roma cultural producers. It serves as an award from Roma for one of their own, with pristine art and indubitable integrity.


ABOUT THE PRIZE:


Each year, the Tajsa Prize is solely sponsored by the ERIAC associate membership to promote the pedagogy of Roma contribution and self-determination. In 2023, the prize came with a 10,000-euro endowment. The selection process is meticulously evaluated by a panel of five experts, including an ERIAC Board member, three Barvalipe Academy members, and the ERIAC Executive Director. The five finalists were announced on November 5th and the final decision was reached by anonymous votes cast by a jury committee.


What is ERIAC?



We are a people whose very name “Gypsy” is a byword for temporary and fleeting. Little wonder then that most celebrations of Romany culture, if they exist at all, are short lived and quickly forgotten. The temporariness of it all just fits into the right-wing agenda that Gypsies, Roma and Travellers will soon be gone for good.

 

Yet in Berlin, just a short walk from one of the only permanent commemorations that 1.5 million Romanies died in the holocaust, is a small organisation who is fighting back against the right-wing culture wars with Romany culture itself. Founded in 2017, the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture is a joint initiative of the Council of Europe, the Open Society Foundations, and the Roma Leaders’ initiative.


The idea of an institution that serves the interests of a 12 million strong Romani community is deeply radical. As soon as you enter ERIAC’s offices in Berlin and Belgrade you discover an organisation that is radical to core, but also one that means business. From its insistence on having Romani leadership, to its belief that all Romani identities are welcome, this is an organisation that really has the potential to transform the way Gypsies, Roma and Travellers are perceived for good.

 

“ERIAC exists to increase the self-esteem of Roma and to decrease negative prejudice of the majority population towards the Roma by means of arts, culture, history, and media,” says Executive Director Timea Junghaus.

 

“ERIAC acts as an international creative hub to support the exchange of creative ideas across borders, cultural domains and Romani identities. ERIAC aims to be the promoter of Romani contributions to European culture and talent, success and achievement, as well as to document the historical experiences of Romani people in Europe,” adds Deputy Director Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka.


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