Fortune Tellers Future in Serbia 2011
Development & Execution: Terraforming
Main partner: Suno e Rromengo
Fundings: Swedish Institute
“Creative Force – Western balkans”
Ministry Of Education And Minorities AP Vojvodina | Office For The Inclusion Of The Roma AP Vojvodina | Student Culture Center of the Novi Sad University | University Of Novi Sad | Vojvodinian Roma Center For Democracy | Municipality Of Backa Palanka | Culture Center Backa Palanka | Roma Association “Tovarisevo” | RTV Vojvodina – Editorial Board Programs in Romani | Bap Television | Pal Method Interactive Education
Target group attention is secured through the involvement of local authorities, cultural actors, pedagogues and local Roma organizations, and through the promotion of the project activities in local media, social media, as well as through the project partners’ networks. Also, performances on public places are used to promote the exhibitions in local art spaces.
• Engagement and exchange between the young and old Roma,
• Cooperation and exchange between local Roma artists and the Swedish artists,
• Exhibitions and performances,
• Cooperation with local decision- and policymakers, cultural operators, educational professionals and local authorities,
• Cooperation and exchange with local Roma organizations,
• Cooperation and exchange with local students and youth organizations,
• Communication with media operators, journalists and public profiles,
• Website, social media, and a publication about the project;
Art and creativity as a main tool for:
- Communication and exchange between the young and old Roma,
- Communication and exchange between the Swedish and Serbian artists,
- Communication and exchange between the Roma and the general public,
- Advocacy, education and reaching our target groups;
1. Young Roma in Serbia;
2. Older Roma generation in Serbia;
3. Decision- and policymakers in Serbia, especially in the fields of culture, education and human rights;
4. Cultural operators, media and local authorities;
5. Educators, teachers, school personal, pupils and students;
6. The general public in Serbia, especially the young people;
7. Roma artists and Swedish artists;
A dream is the first step toward changing the reality…
Playing with this old stereotype, we inverted it and asked: what about the fortune-tellers future? Who can predict his/hers future? Or in other words: who is responsible for the future of a “fortune teller”?
During the project we explored the older Roma people’s dreams of happiness and success, combined with their accumulated life experience, transforming them into role-models for young Roma.
Through this trans-generational exchange we wanted to sparkle a seed of a dream in young Roma’s minds, a breeze of an idea, a first line of a thought: “Maybe it is not impossible. Maybe even I could become…” This way, we wanted to support young Roma in realizing that they can and must dare to dream.
As a next step, we wanted to point out that as much as we all should be the ones in charge of deciding our own future ourselves, we also need to accept the responsibilities that come with that, and be ready to work hard to achieve it. And as young people, most of all: to go to school and get a good education.
Off course, in reality, there are many obstacles on young Roma’s way to gain education: poverty, discrimination, unsupportive environments both at home and in the rest of the society, etc. But this time, our main goal wasn’t to emphasize the obstacles. This time we wanted to support a development of a dream. Just as a headline on our exhibition’s flyers and posters was formulated: “because a dream is a first step toward changing the reality…”
That was the central thematic scope involved artists had worked on.
The aesthetics of the presentation of the Roma
Another important aspect in communicating the project message, especially towards young people, was the aesthetic feature of the whole concept. The most prominent local art spaces were transformed into contemporary cross-media art environments with Roma people as central figures presented through colorful visions as beautiful shining heroes, in fantastic costumes and poses that reveal self-esteem and aplomb. Discovering the Roma in such assembly of design and art made a great impact on the audience, especially the young people.
Faces Behind the Stories and the Stories Behind the Faces
We used mixed media to communicate the project message. Two artistic expressions we put the most emphasis on were: visual – in form of the portraits of the old Roma, and story telling – in form of the Roma Theater performances. Large portraits showed the faces behind the stories. Roma actors, using a first-person narrative wile telling the stories, told the stories behind the faces.
Further on, in addition to the portraits and actors’ performances, we used music, video art, interactive conceptual art, and other visual art pieces, communicating the main project idea both on emotional and intellectual level.
One should not underestimate that in superficial times where the design of the “media packaging” is lot of times more important than the content, young visitors perceived the presented Roma as some kind of “Idols” (if one may use this “realty TV show jargon”), and suddenly saw them in totally different lights. That made the young visitors more curious to hear the stories behind the portraits, too.
One of the most important tasks in project realization was to engage, motivate, prepare and guide Swedish and Serbian Roma artists through the project process.
The project has involved situations or methods that were in many ways new experiences for all the participants. That was a big challenge. For Serbian Roma Theater “Suno e Rromengo”, this was a first experience of an international artistic cooperation, and a first experience in multi-disciplinary artistic work. For Swedish artists, this was a first meeting with Serbian Roma, their culture, mentality, social codex, historical background, present situation and obstacles they are facing today.
During the preparations we held several meetings with Swedish and Serbian Roma artists.
With Swedish artists we shared our previous experiences of working with the Roma, explaining the background of the Roma situation in Europe and our motives to work with those issues. In our discussions we focused mainly on the project process and goals, and the artistic scope of the project. We tried not to interfere with artistic visions of the artists, giving them as much artistic freedom as possible, but keeping in mind the general project idea.
With the Roma Theater we focused on the creative process, explaining the benefits and challenges of a multidisciplinary artistic cooperation. Moreover, we needed to define the methods of using the collected interviews with old Roma in order to develop the monologues for the performances.
In the same time, we worked on anchoring the project idea with local authorities, cultural actors, media, and local Roma organizations in Serbia.
During this period we visited diverse institutions and organizations in charge of local art production in three municipalities in Vojvodina, and booked the art spaces for the exhibitions.
In order to prepare the ground for upcoming project-promotional campaign, we presented the project to the main media actors.
Lastly, we collected required documentation and applied to relevant authorities for necessary permissions for public performances on squares and streets. Also, we secured permissions to perform in the University of Novi Sad, the municipality building and gymnasium in Backa Palanka, etc.
Cooperation With Local Roma Organizations
In this phase we could rely on a support from the Office for the Inclusion of the Roma of the Autonomous province of Vojvodina, Vojvodinian Roma Center for Democracy (VRCD), and the Roma association “Tovarisevo”.
The Office for the Inclusion of the Roma of the Autonomous province of Vojvodina is a governmental body, involved in decision making, as well as in implementation, communication and information on the policies regarding the Roma. As very influential and respected Roma authority, the cooperation with the Office for the Inclusion of the Roma was very important for the successful implementation of the project.
Vojvodinian Roma Center for Democracy (VRCD) is a non-governmental organization run by Roma students. It is an independent actor, very flexible and well organized, with strong connections among grassroots activists and other organizations.
Finally, the Roma association “Tovarisevo” is a small local organization in the village of Tovarisevo in western Vojvodina. Thanks to very dedicated and passionate local activists, it has priceless “hands-on” experience in locating and solving the real life problems of local Roma population in surrounding villages in the area.
The elderly Roma project participants
We established collaboration with 25 older Roma people from different Roma communities in Vojvodina:
• Roma community around a village of Vrdnik,
• Roma community around the town of Ruma,
• Roma community from the village of Tovarisevo,
• Roma community from the town of Backa Palanka, and
• Roma community from the city of Novi Sad
This way, we had participants from different backgrounds, social environments, and both urban and rural areas – from very small villages, middle-size towns, and a big city. Most of the older Roma project participants were born between 1938-1945. There were 14 women and 11 men among them. Most of them had very little education. Most of the women were housewives. Most of the men were professional musicians, playing with local Roma orchestras in cafes and restaurants. Waste majority of them have never had a permanent employment in their lives. Couple of them had earned a pension, but for most of them, the only income is social help from local social services.
Some of them clearly live under very poor conditions, in very small houses with inadequate sanitation, insufficient isolation, heating and water supplies. But majority of old Roma project participants live comparably to common standards of other people with lower incomes in Serbia: in modest but solid houses, furnished and equipped with usual household necessities such as stove, fridge, television, radio, etc. They are following TV and radio programs, and are relatively well informed about the trends and news in the local society and in the world. All of them are using mobile phones. Couple of them even had computers and Internet at home, but only youngsters – their grandchildren, are using it. None of the old Roma did know how to use computer, but they knew what computers are.
All in all, most of the old Roma project participants were rather poorly educated, but with rich life experiences, hard-working citizens and established members of their local communities since more then 60 years ago.
The stories we collected were chronicles of hardships, obstacles, exclusion, and humble life on the margins of society. It was very sad to realize that most of them didn’t dare to accept the concept of having a “dream”. Instead, we needed to put a lot of efforts and patience to awake their more playful side of personality, and after a while, the interviewees began to reveal their long-forgotten past ambitions.
It usually started with a small and very humble idea, and we needed to insist on “larger dreams”. For instance, one of the interviewees, a musician, told that he liked storytelling, and that his dream was to “tell stories to his friends”. After we insisted to explain more, he admitted that he actually dreamed of being a film director.
Another interviewee, a housewife, claimed that she wanted to be a tailor. She explained that she admired the precision and ability to calculate the materials – a skill that tailors need to have. In the end, she admitted that she actually has a high regard for mathematics, and if she could choose now, she would have loved if she were a mathematician.
Some of the Roma interviewee’s dream-professions we revealed were:
- Agronomist, (IRL pensioned service desk worker) – “It is a profession that ensures that the grain grows so everybody can have bread. No one should be hungry.”
- Veterinarian, (IRL pensioned factory worker) – “I love birds. They are so beautiful. I always wanted to be able to take care of them if they are sick or hurt.”
- Architect, (IRL housewife) – “I would like to build a bridge over the Danube river so the children from my village can go to a nice school in the nearby city on the other side of the river.”
- Judge, (IRL housewife) – “I want justice for everybody, not just for the rich and powerful, but also for the poor and week. If I were a judge, I would have been righteous, but rigorous. Everyone would have been trialed fairly. Those who are not guilty would be set free, and all who deserved to be punished would get their fines or go to jail – regardless of the color of their skin, or if they were rich or poor.”
- EU politician, (IRL housewife) – “I would like to present Serbia as a politician in EU parliament in Brussels. I would not present just Roma, but all people of Serbia. That would show all politicians how we Roma are!”
- Mathematician, (IRL housewife) – “I admire mathematicians for their precision and ability to calculate. I would like to be a math teacher, to teach the kids about it.”
- Chemist, (IRL housewife) – “As a little girl I always liked to play with different powders and liquids. I could have become a chemist to discover medicine for people.”
- Medical doctor, (IRL musician). – “When I was a kid, my sister become sick and died. It hurts still today. I should have become a doctor, to heal people. But not only the rich ones – I would have healed all the people. Because, whom can you turn to when you are sick if there is no nice and good doctor to help?”
- Conductor, (IRL musician) – “I always loved music. Music is my life. I play violin in bars and restaurants for 60 years. I would like to be able to read notes, and to conduct a big orchestra with lots of violins!”
- Pilot, (IRL self-taught car mechanic) – “I would like to travel around the whole world, and see all countries. But I would like to do that as a pilot of a big commercial airplane, handsome in my fancy pilot uniform. I would wave to birds and people on the ground, and safely fly my passengers to remote destinations.“
- Electrical engineer, (IRL musician) – “I think that the most clever people are inventors, like Nikola Tesla who invented electricity. Thanks to him we have all those commodities like electric light and television. I wish I were an electrical engineer to discover new useful inventions for people.”
- Film director, (IRL musician) – “I like to tell stories to people. I wish I were a film director – like Hitchcock, to tell the thrilling and exciting stories in my films. I would command a large crew of actors, light technicians, and cameramen, shouting “action” from my film-director chair.”
- Chef, (IRL musician) – “I love to cook. As a musician, playing in restaurants, I learned a lot about how a good restaurant kitchen should be led. It is like orchestra, where the chief-cook is a conductor. Everything needs to be perfect: sauces, meet, soups and salads. If I had a chance, I would have been a chef in an exclusive French restaurant, preparing great tasty meals that make guests so happy that they want to come to kitchen to congratulate me.”
- TV-show host, (IRL musician) – “I am used to be on stage as a musician, but I never had a chance to show my skills to a large number of audience. TV-show host reaches millions of TV viewers. I wish I were hosting the “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire” show. I would have make jokes, entertain the viewers, talk to the guests, and make people happy by handing a prize to the winners – a check on one million dinars!”
14 old Roma were chosen to be photographed for the Fortune Tellers Future portraits. We scheduled the photo shoots and organized transportation for the participants accordingly. During several days, smaller groups of old Roma participants were coming from their home villages and towns to the photo studio in Backa Palanka.
The procedure that each one of the participants went through included introduction to the Swedish artist group Glimpse, a little chit-chat with artists to brake the ice, making of the costumes, changing and dressing, makeup, lights adjustments, and then an hour-long photo session. A translator needed to be present during the entire process. It took around 1-2 hours per person. This was an intensive part of the project that needed to be extremely well synchronized and organized.
Other involved artists contributed to the Fortune Tellers Future with their own conceptual works, based on the new experiences of meeting with Roma communities in Serbia and the Roma artists colleagues.
Jean Ploteau prepared himself for the “Fortune Tellers Future” by researching and reading about the Roma. He found several very significant and striking true stories about the destiny of the Roma. Among others, a story about the German Sinti (Roma) boxer Johann Trollmann, the winner of the 1933 championship who was humiliated and deprived of the title by the Nazis, and later arrested by Gestapo and killed in a concentration camp. Jean presented these stories as a puzzle placed in a plastic container that might have been a “neonatal intensive care unit” (baby incubator), or it might have been a plastic holder used for researching some dangerous bacteria. Read more about it here…
Stina and Niclas – the Swedish art group Formverk, visited the Roma theater Suno e Rromengo in the village of Novi Karlovci to meet the actors, and to get the feeling of the Roma theater working environment. First they filmed the space, treating it as a part of the spirit of the theater itself. Then, Niclas and Stina made short movies with the Roma actors, having in mind their particular roles in the Fortune Tellers Future performances. Read more about it here…
Especially for the Fortune Tellers Future project, Captain Sorrow & Primitive Dance recorded a music piece “Roma Dreams” inspired by the destiny of the Roma in Europe, made using digital and analog music instruments and sounds of railway stations and subway trains announcements from around Europe. Misko Stanisic also made a set of pictures “Roma Dreams”. Read more about it here…
Performances and Exhibitions
Fortune Tellers Future performances were held at public spaces in the city of Novi Sad, the town of Backa Palanka, and the village of Novi Karlovci. Main idea was to display large portraits of old Roma, transforming public spaces into the scenery for the Roma actor’s monologues. Actors were then telling the stories of the old Roma presented on the portraits.
A nice feature was that the portraits were made in such size that a person that holds a portrait during the performances becomes “a part of the portrait”. In that way portraits suddenly had legs, and were moving. In a way, portraits become more present, as real persons. This gave a very nice surreal touch to the performances.
We covered different environments with the performances: from rural areas of small village of Sase near Indjija, to the main square in central Novi Sad. Our goal was especially to get in to spaces connected with education and the spaces of local authorities.
For that purpose, in cooperation with the University of Novi Sad, we arranged a performance in the Faculty of Philosophy (where, among others, are department for Pedagogy, and department for Romology – a discipline about Roma people, their culture and language). In cooperation with the Gymnasium in Backa Palanka, we performed in the Secondary School of Economics (with the largest number of Roma students in the area) and the General Secondary School of Backa Palanka. Performance was held during the half-hour brake time when all the students are out in the main hall of the school. It was a very nice experience. Students and teachers were engaged and very curious. We got a lot of questions about the Fortune Tellers Future concept and Roma people, and lot of small discussions and opinion exchanges were held in little groups around the crowded school hall.
Furthermore, Fortune Tellers Future performance was held in the building of the Municipality of Backa Palanka. The setting of the main counter hall of the municipality building where citizens were queuing to finish their errands was suddenly very different with large portraits of Roma judges, Roma politicians and others. This environment, usually associated only with pretty boring bureaucracy and administration, was turn into a living art space focused on the Roma. Moreover, some of the Roma presented on the portraits are actually living in the town of Backa Palanka, and very possibly, they were recognized on the artworks by their neighbors and fellow citizens.
Very exciting were performances at open spaces. We performed at the main city square of Novi Sad (the Svetozar Miletic Square), and in front of the National Theater in Novi Sad. Also, performances have included the areas in front of local banks, streets and parks in Backa Palanka. It was interesting getting into discussions with people passing by. Some were just curious asking what we were doing, some had opinions on the subject. Some were throwing prejudiced comments. For instance, one person said with surprised voice: “Look, a doctor who is bagging on the street?” Obviously, recognizing a Roma person presented as a doctor on the portrait, that person couldn’t even imagine that Roma might possibly do anything else on the street but “to bag” – even as a doctor.
During the performances at public spaces we were distributing flyers to passersby, inviting them to exhibitions that will be held later the same evening.
In the village of Sase we performed on the open field, at the outskirts of the Roma settlement, surrounded by sheep and shepherds.
We video-filmed a lot of materials from the performances. It will be available on our website and through our YouTube channel.
Exhibitions were held in the Roma Theater in Novi Karlovci, in “Fabrika” in Novi Sad, and in the gallery of the Culture Center of Backa Palanka.
In Novi Karlovci, a home place of the Roma Theater Suno e Rromengo, we focused our exhibition and the performance on the theater intself. It was a homage to the Roma Theater, its work and people behind it. The artworks were placed inside the actual theater room, on the seats, on the stage, and other spaces inside the theater. Some works were placed outside the house, in the garden, and around the main entrance. Actors told their monologues on the theater stage, while Roma portraits were placed in the audience like if they were “sitting on the seats”. When the actual audience filled the rest of the seats, a beautiful scene appeared: old Roma in beautiful costumes (the portraits) were mixed together with the real visitors, and in the magic darkness of the theater, it wasn’t easy to distinguish who was a real person and what was just an illusion. That evening, the whole theater was an artwork.
Studentski Kulturni Centar Novi Sad (SKCNS) is an organization working under the umbrella of the Executive Council of Vojvodina in Novi Sad since 1993. It is the organizer of several regular cultural events in the region, and is also a record label and publisher for local artists.
A main venue for the SKCNS activities is “Fabrika”, a vivid culture-space in Novi Sad with rich and comprehensive program covering everything from art exhibitions and theater to music concerts etc.
“Fabrika” is an old factory placed close to the popular promenade path and a city beach on the shore of the Danube River on one side, and a city park and a residential area on the other side. Nice people that run the SKCNS were extremely supportive and professional during our cooperation on the Fortune Tellers Future exhibition.
The Culture Center of Backa Palanka is a professional institution established as a cultural institution by Municipal Assembly of Backa Palanka in 1990. The Culture Center of Backa Palanka is a main organizer of cultural happenings in the area. It runs local festivals, exhibitions, theater, City Cinema, the Museum of Backa Palanka, and the City Gallery. For the Fortune Tellers Future exhibition, we used the City Gallery of Backa Palanka – the main and most known gallery space in the town. We had a very good cooperation with the Culture Center of Backa Palanka.
More about all participating artists and their artworks:
Fortune Tellers Future artists in Serbia 2011:
Suno e Rromengo
Promotion and the media coverage
Our activities were well covered by local and national media in Serbia. We were guests in different programs on RTV Vojvodina (national TV house) among others, in the “Morning program”.
We have very good cooperation with the editorial board of the RTV Vojvodina program in Romani language since several years. Items about our project were aired several times in different programs in Romani language (news programs, and programs about the culture). Also, twice we were guests in a studio, talking about the Fortune Tellers Future.
We were guests on TV BAP (Backa Palanka local TV station) three times – ones in the one-hour long TV program entirely dedicated to our project, and twice in programs about local culture.
TV Kanal 9 (regional TV channel) interviewed the artists during the exhibition in Novi Sad. Several other TV stations broadcasted items about the Fortune Tellers Future: TV Apolo, TV Novi Sad, TV Happy, TV Most, and TV Panonija.
Several newspapers published articles about the project: the main Novi Sad based daily paper “Dnevnik”, “Palanacke Novosti”, etc. Several internet-based news services and web pages presented our activities, among others the RTV Vojvodina news page.
Our local partners published articles about the project on their web pages – as were, for instance, a project presentation on the SKCNS web page. Also, the Fortune Tellers Future was covered through social media – among others, on Terraforming Facebook page and through Twitter. Moreover, other Facebook pages (especially our partners’ and friends’ Facebook pages) and bloggers wrote about the Fortune Tellers Future.
Impact on youth
Beside the direct communication with young people, and in particular with young Roma, very important is the impact the project made on others that are directly involved with young peoples upbringing: pedagogues and school personal, local authorities, cultural actors and media.
Impact on the old Roma people
The project had a large impact on involved old Roma. For most of them, taking part in the creation of the artworks based on their lives, and especially, making of the portraits with costumes, make-up and all the attention they received during the process, was a great boost for their self-esteem. We will describe two beautiful examples:
After the old Roma man was photographed as a film director, our friend Kolja drove him home. Kolja told us later about this trip. The old man was very silent in a car, and didn’t speak a word for almost a half an hour, just looking through the window immersed in his thoughts. Than the old Roma said: “For a minute there, I was a real film director. I really was. I felt exactly how it is to be a film director. I will never forget this experience!”
Glimpse maid a beautiful costume for an old Roma woman that would be photographed as a veterinarian. Three artists spend almost an hour preparing her, fixing her make up, dress and hair. In the end, she had a fantastic crown made of birds in her hair, and a beautiful long green dress. All this was made of recycled materials, practically – out of trash. Nevertheless, this woman shone with happiness and pride during the entire photo session. After we were done, she told us that she has never been treated so nice, that she never received so much attention, and that she believe that she has never been so beautiful in her entire life. “I was so beautiful as a “bird queen”, even more beautiful than on my wedding!” she told us.
The engagement of the old Roma people was a prerequisite condition for the success of the entire project. It was essential to base the artworks and the stories on a real Roma experience. But even more important was a transformation of the old Roma into the role-models. It was a process mainly directed towards young people with aim to make young Roma see the old Roma in different lights. During the progression of our work, old Roma participants accepted the idea and their roles in the project, and in the end, really grew into the role-models with self-initiative to actively reach and talk to young people. This transformation was as equally important for young, as for old Roma.
Impact on the artists
Certainly, all involved artists learned a lot and gained new experiences – both in the artistic fields and in terms of broadening their views in general. The project was based on creative cooperation, mutual learning and artistic exchange between Swedish and Roma artists in multidisciplinary art forms.
For Swedish artists, most important was a new knowledge about the Roma people in general, and particularly, about the Roma in Serbia and Sweden. During the preparation for the project, and during our joint work, we discussed the current and past situation of the Roma in Europe, especially in Serbia and in Sweden. Also, in order to understand and prepare themselves for Fortune Tellers Future assignments, Swedish artists did their own researches about the Roma people. As outcome, all of us involved in the project, including Serbian Roma organizations, could learn some new facts about the Roma from the Swedish artists.
Roma Theater “Suno e Rromengo” gained an important new experience in international artistic cooperation, and in particular, on joint productions and collaboration with other artists. This boosted their self-confidence and broaden their views – as artists and in general. In eyes of general public, local authorities and cultural actors, Roma Theater gained more respect and higher status as a serious player in local cultural production. The project made new opportunities for Roma actors to freely express opinions and ideas, and become important local carriers of promotion of the norms and standards of tolerance, openness and human rights.
Impact on decision-makers, local authorities, cultural operators, media, pedagogues, and local project partners
Fortune Tellers Future contributed to raise awareness among policy and decision-makers and local authorities on what curse of action should be taken to support Roma to fulfill their schooling. Through the involvement of our local project partners (Roma organizations and other local actors) local authorities found partners for development and implementation of new actions to motivate and support young Roma.
The project contributed to the creation of a sustainable cooperation and network between Swedish and Roma artists, and cultural operators in Serbia. The project contributed to raise awareness among local cultural operators about Roma artists as important contributors to local cultural production.
Local and national media played an important role in the promotion of the project goals. But in the same time, journalists and other media operators become more aware of the obstacles young Roma facing on their way to gain education. This will contribute to more media productions on the subject, and to better understanding of the Roma by media people in general.
Local pedagogues and school personal also learned more about the Roma people. It helped them to better understand their Roma students. Teachers that visited the exhibitions together with their classes had an opportunity to promote the norms and standards of tolerance and openness, and to support their Roma students in their efforts to succeed in school.