Curatorial text

Revival of old voices

Emília Rigová

1. 6. – 3. 8. 2020

The opening will take place at 1.6. at 18:00.

We have been planning the exhibition of the artist Emilie Rigová in the Artivist Lab gallery since last year. Originally announced the curatorial selection of videos and photographs from an extensive project called Untitled / Deadlock (beginning of 2014), in which Rigová deals with the topic of the Roma Holocaust, we canceled at the very beginning of the quarantine situation. The new author’s exhibition “Revive / Purano Hangos” presents a project that Rigová began working on during her residency in NY (2018). This is a procedural project, the “first part” of which we present for the first time in the Artivist Lab gallery. Rigová’s work in the last period is characterized by an authorial/authentic approach to the topic of identity. At the same time, she focuses on the visibility of Roma culture or the search for its aspects in the majority culture.

In the Revive / Purano Hangos project, old sheet of composed music of already extinct Romani compositions becomes the main source of inspiration. The compositions come from Klenovec, from the collection of Bohuslav Valšťan, which were published in 1994 in the magazine “Romano Džaniben”. In 1957, those songs were sung and recorded by Ján Cibuľa, M.D., who became the first chairman of the International Roma Union – Romani Union after his emigration to Switzerland.

In the past, the vast majority of Romani musicians played by ear, which meant that sheet music could never be accurate. Only a true expert can find the right rhythm in them. Through this process, the artist deliberately makes visible the complexity or a certain dysfunction of playing according to musical notes.

In the art project “REVIVE / PURANO HANGOS” the melody is brought back to life by non-Roma musicians. It is a symbolic gesture, which the author subliminally introduces in the reading of the whole project: “Gadjos” revive Romani songs… For Rigová, sheet music records of old Romani songs become a source of information mediated by non-Romani people. Since the author herself did not know the songs and did not know how they should sound, there was room for individual processing of the melody by the various musicians addressed. The majority of society thus revives old Roma voices. In the act itself, it is symbolically a kind of historical justice. At the same time, Romani musicians have, “Halgato”, as they are stereotypically said to do, “in the blood”, and therefore find the correct rhythm and tones in the notes immediately. The artist plays ambiguously with this reality. She tries to preserve the video recordings on which the musicians sing according to the music recordings of the defunct Romani compositions and enliven them.

Archiving of audio and video recordings takes place in the gallery, but also online on the FB page #puranohangos. The Artivist Lab gallery exhibits a new work by the author – a self-playing piano, constantly repeating the song “Aven, aven, ó žandára / The cops caught us”.

The visitors of the exhibition can sit by the piano, sing and play the lyrics of the song. Their singing is automatically recorded on the camera and becomes part of the exhibition and archived online. On our FB page, we publish notes inviting everyone who wants to revive old voices with us and to join the project. Gradually, a music online archive will be created, which will be supplemented even after the exhibition. There is no coincidence that verses of the song: “The cops caught us cutting our hair. Don’t cut me completely, yes, I’d better go camping! ” are reminiscent of the tragic history and reality that we sent our Roma fellow citizens to concentration camps for death. The sound of the piano is complemented by the instrument of the sculptor, who carves music into the stone directly in the gallery during the exhibition. By complementing the sound of cutting, embracing a song with a mechanical instrument, the artist connects real-time with history. Sound-wise she connects the past, present, and future together.

On August 2, the day of Roma Holocaust Memorial Day, the stone with carved notes will become a monument to the tragedy. Rigová often uses multi-meaning in her works of art, even in this case, where the text thematizes the brutality of the security apparatus. The selection of songs with their content can also refer to current cases of disproportionate intervention by a police officer in Krompaše, in the locality of Stará Maša in the Košice region, where on 28 April 2020 children from a Roma settlement were attacked and beaten with a baton. According to the testimony of the attacked girl, the police officer also threatened to shoot them. Using the lyrics, the artist compares the weight of history and reflects our current awareness. The social legacy of the exhibition is clearly legible.

Through art, she re-composes and identifies, works with the reconstruction of history. She points out that even today the verses would find their place and also the reality that the exclusion of the Roma still persists. Is it possible that it is precisely our ignorance of the topic of the Roma Holocaust that we have pushed the boundaries of morality and decent behavior to this day? Do we legitimize the feeling of power among public officials? Rigová opens a very difficult and practically still ignored the topic of the Roma Holocaust. It is very important for the majority society that this topic is addressed by Roma artists. Despite their personal experience, we as a nation can deal with our long silence. Only in this way can satisfaction and justice come. The topic of the Roma Holocaust in Bohemia is even more relevant today because, in fact, the victims and their survivors still do not have a dignified memorial. There is no place of reverence for the third generation of post-Holocaust trauma to mourn for their family. After 70 years, the project of the Lety u Písku memorial is finally being created.

“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “emergency situation” we live in is the rule. We must arrive at a conception of history that is responsible. Then it will be clear that the task before us is to establish a real state of emergency, thus improving our position in the fight against fascism. Last but not least, this possibility has a chance that its opponents will accept it as a historical norm in the name of progress. – The astonishment that the things we experience in the 20th century are “still” possible is by no means a philosophy. It is not the beginning of knowledge unless it is the knowledge that the concept of history on which we rely is unsustainable. ” – Walter Benjamin (Theses on the philosophy of history)

EMÍLIA RIGOVÁ (* 1980, Trnava, Slovak Republic) is a visual artist who in her work works primarily with an object in the context of an installation, performance, or site-specific intervention. She uses the possibilities of 2D imaging, such as computer graphics with starting points in classical painting. She examines the content of the intersubjectivity of emotional experience, modified by the specifics of the socio-cultural environment. The central themes of her works are cultural and social stereotypes, alter-ego, Roma identity and individual psychology. The author studied at the Department of Sculpture of the Academy of Arts in Banská Bystrica and in 2011 received a PhD. title with the work Sculpture as Metalepsy in the Digital Age. She exhibits her works and is engaged in curatorial, pedagogical and publishing activities. She teaches art courses in the fields of sculpture, multimedia and intermedia in Banská Bystrica, where she lives and works. Rigová exhibits in Slovakia and intensively abroad. Examples of individual exhibitions include Periphery Icons (2019) at Bratislava’s Gandy Gallery, Lost Forest (2018) at Berlin’s ERIAC (European Roma Institute for Culture and the Arts), Lost Identity (2018) at MQ21 in Vienna and others. For example, she exhibited as a group at the FUTUROMA exhibition (2019) at last year’s Biennial in Venice (curator Daniel Baker) and together with Petra Hanáková she was the curator of the exhibition Keres kultura! We do culture! (2019 – 2020) in the Central Slovak Gallery in Banská Bystrica. In 2018, she received the Oskár Čepan Award.

Curator: Tamara Moyzes

Construction of sound and multimedia installation:

Milan Guštár

Jan Mucska © 2046

The exhibition is part of the program of the 22nd World Roma Festival Khamoro.

The KHAMORO Festival has become one of the most important Roma cultural projects not only in the Czech Republic, but in the whole of Europe. The festival is organized by SLOVO 21, z.s. and Studio Production Saga, s.r.o and as its organizers we try to contribute not only to the professional presentation of Roma culture and art, but also to capture current topics related to the position of Roma.


The Revive / Purano Hangos project is developed with the support of the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (ERIAC).