May 23 2011: Unidentified Gypsy Girl Photograph (1890s)

Went to the opening of two new exhibitions at New Art Exchange on Friday evening, and afterwards spent an enlightening hour or so at a panel discussion – chaired by NAE’s director Skinder Hundal – with both the artists (Cecilia Jardemar and Sara Heitlinger) and some of the subjects involved in making Patrin, an installation involving photographs, sound, texts and objects aiming to represent the way of life of British Romani people in 2011.

Patrin is showing in the mezzanine gallery at NAE until August 6th, alongside The Zone, a powerful video installation by Ramallah-based audio-visual artists Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme (a show with interesting connections to the current Wael Shawky exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary, which runs until June 26).

As for the photograph here – dating to the 1890s – it’s not clear whether the subject is an actual Roma or Gypsy, or merely a girl wearing the costume for the purpose of having the photograph taken. Either possibility suggests something can be read in this image about attitudes towards these often romanticised and vilified people, and their tendency to act as exotic ciphers and ‘others’ within British and wider European culture.

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