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“A Roma Model/ The Cosmopolitan Other?” (Berlin, Germany)

March 20, 2013

Daniel Baker and Ethel Brooks’ performative conversation in the frame of the Former West project, entitled “A Roma Model/ The Cosmopolitan Other” which takes place today, March 20th 2013 in Berlin, sparked a chain of criticism on the internet from the artistic and activist community for the problematic way in which it appears to gloss over Roma repression in Europe today, instead chosing to idealize and distort their experience.  With the permission of the authors, here we reproduce the original statements and comments posted on Facebook, together with the abstract for Baker and Brooks’ conversation and a link to the livestream where it was broadcast . 

Many thanks to Jasmina Tumbas and Mike Korsonewski for translation assistance.


via Former West

A Roma Model/ The Cosmopolitan Other


It seems to be a commonplace assumption that the misery of Roma who live amidst our societies is a direct consequence of their self-chosen “freedom” that stands against the prevailing consensus in the so-called West. Now, as this very consensus gets uncovered as one of order, control, and disciplining aimed at breeding the fiction of western hegemony, the Roma model of life—arrested through social and aesthetic prejudice—might offer knowledge on how a new possibility might emerge from the current condition of emergency. Artist and researcher Daniel Baker and theorist Ethel Brooks examine what Roma thought has to offer today if it manages to migrate from the margins to central societal discourses on politics, economics, and aesthetics. The discussion on issues such as nomadic sensitivity, extraterritoriality, camp, survival, and collectivity—underlined by the principles of the makeshift and of contingency—get punctuated by two instances of divinatory dialogue: a palm reading by Brooks and a Tarot card reading by Baker. These marginal “fortune-telling” acts are stereotyped as primitive practices of those who have been circumvented by modernity, yet they resonate in many established western structures ranging from commerce to politics to culture and art to religion. Whether taken seriously or not, these acts of divination signify particular modes of engagement and a potential performative departure to embrace “Othered” knowledges in imagining alternate kinds of prospects for being together.

Daniel Baker/Maria Hlavajova




via Filiz Demirova

Hello Ethel, I found out that you and Daniel Baker are giving a talk titled “A Roma Model The Cosmopolitan Other”. I think the description of the talk and this event are very problematic. I think it is for many reasons problematic. For example rather than tackle the oppression of Roma in Europe, I feel it idealizes a distorted, whitewashed image of Romani existence. This whole discourse sidesteps the issues of lived oppression, racism,  and exclusion, and instead idealizes “nomadic sensitivity, extraterritoriality, camp, survival, and collectivity”. To make matters worse, you are going to perform what they call “divinatory dialogue”: you will hold a “palm reading” session and Baker will do “Tarot card reading”. I am a Romni and a activist and just looking at it makes me feel sick. This is unbelievable.

via Ethel Brooks

Dear Filiz,

I am sorry that you are so upset by the title and the subject of the talk. I also am a Romni and an activist, and hope that the dialogue will actually address some of the very issues of racism, exclusion and lived oppression. I did not write the “nomadic sensitivity” part, but do think that the collectivity and survival are urgent questions that have to be addressed. I am hoping that what I will be doing will be useful to Romani activists; the palm reading that I am doing and what I will talk about I draw from my own family background –this was work that our women did to feed our families, not the gadze fantasy that people portray it as– and will talk about race and gender and class in that context. Are you in Berlin? If so, I would be happy to meet and to talk more about it, or to have you come. If not, then I will share the link with you as well. Again, I am sorry that I have offended and sickened you. I think that it is crucial to talk about our history in Europe, as part and parcel of the racism –death, violence, eviction, etc– that Roma face. I also think that we have to claim, as activists and as Roma, and not deny that these have been the labor market practices –the only alternatives– of our people. We brought palm reading to Europe from India, and it kept us fed and alive for centuries… there is not need to deny that in the name of some sort of push for belonging to the gadzekane world.

I would like to talk more if you want. But baxt, Ethel

via Jasmina Tumbas

A very important intervention by Filiz Demirova – especially given the description of the event (!!!). However, I am curious how Ethel Brooks will approach the topic, and hope, given her immediate and thorough response to Filiz, that this panel will be a lot more “critical” than it appears in the description, meaning that it engages with the very stereotypes and racism that enforced and perpetuated these kinds of “labours” of survival, and how those forms of racism are systematically perpetuated by European “nostalgia” and “primitivizing” of Roma as “ideal cosmopolitan Others” (one must only remember Salman Rushdie’s talk at the Pavilion in Venice) or villainized as criminals and social parasites (the status quo in the European approach to Roma, politically and socially), all the while the brutal REALITIES of the living conditions (and their histories) are often conveniently ignored or brushed over… Thankfully there will be a live stream.

via Marika Schmiedt


via Ethel Brooks

Dear Marika,

I am sorry if you are offended by the presentation that I will make tomorrow. You have seen my response to Feliz Demirova. I am doing this as an anti-racist intervention. I think that we need to talk about labor practices and the ways in which Roma and Sinti kept body and soul together for a millennium. My presentation will be about gendered and racialized labor and the ways in which practices such as palm reading are work, pure and simple. but also how such divinatory practices have been taken up by non-Roma, not just through liberal fetishist racism, which you rightly say, but also through capitalist speculation, commodity production and other forms. I am making an intervention, one that I hope is useful to our community and will push back against gadjekane obsessions with our difference.

via Marika Schmiedt

dear ethel, well intentioned, but wrong thinking approach.
we have no more time for experiments.
for a change, it finally needs more discussions and other interventions!

A livestream of the performative conversation between Daniel Baker and Ethel Brooks can be accessed on the Former West main site March 20th, 2013 from 10 PM (Berlin Time).

Marika Schmiedt‘s reaction to Daniel Baker and Ethel Brooks’ performance

an impossible intervention!
the challenge of rigorous intellectual engagement was not present.
i found the undifferentiated treatment and blending of roma “culture”, concentration camps and camps in general very problematic.
for me, it also raised the question of whether brooks or baker lost relatives in the concentration camps?
my spontaneous thought was no. because i think the outlook would be different.
in general, i have the impression that there are big differences between those roma who live in the usa and the uk, and those who reside in various european states.
the concern and hence the involvement is very different.
at times, i also thought about the use of such events.
who actually benefits from them?
what remains is a lack of solidarity with roma among intellectuals and artists.
Ethel Brooks
 I was travelling without access to email or facebook these past few days, but I want to respond to Marika’s reaction to Daniel Baker’s and my intervention, particularly around the question of whether UK/US Roma are different from European Roma: we are, certainly. However, I think that this production of difference, between an “us” and “them” among Romani people is disingenuous. As we know, there is a tremendous diversity amongst Romani communities –some of us speak Romanes, others don’t, or some speak poghadi chib or other dialects of Romanes –of those who don’t speak Romanes, there are many who do not do so (Spanish Roma) because the language was forcibly taken. Some of us have collective memories of genocide –and lost family in the Holocaust, in particular– others don’t have that direct connection, but feel the loss and pain deeply nevertheless. Some of us have collective histories of traveling, others were forcibly settled; some of us were enslaved, others we not. some of us have been forcibly evicted and moved from place to place, denied home, citizenship, school, others not. We have so many battles to fight –but to fight each other, rather than those who are killing us, is merely divisive and not productive. We are a diverse people –and just as I don’t believe in the nation-state, I also don’t believe in the necessity of a homogeneous notion of who we are. It makes us no less a people ==we are Romani people, and have ties to each other across nation-states, across history and across oceans, that has lasted a millennium. I celebrate those connections, and mourn our losses and our collective history of genocide, and I hope that our interactions begin a dialogue that will be based on our connections, and our common struggles. But baxt, Ethel
Tanja Ostojic
I agree with your statement Marika Schmiedt . In addition to that, I´d like to mention that at the same conference we witnessed a number of artists performing all kinds of stereotypes of their otherness. Such as Nastio Mosquito in “African? I Guess”. He brought to us ALL stereotypes of “nigger” sexist, “sexy nigger” in awfully entertaining show where audience was amused by being sexually excited and hearing over and over “nigger” “sex” “bitch” words + “I like the sound of word bitch!..” and similar.. I wonder how comes that the discourse has been brought so much backwards. Remembering Josephine Baker´s Banana-dance (in 1920´s and 1930´s) and the “Sweet Sweetback…” move (1971).. It´s hard to believe.. Why do the artists of color have to paint their skin with black?! Why do we need all the stereotypes over and over? Why artist of Turkish origin, a Phd candidate Köken Ergun is exposing Turkish community.. etc.. and claims that they say that they do isolate them selfs voluntarily within the German society?! He further more claims that with his work with “isolated communities” he kind of enlightens their “sterile lives”.. And why our beloved Russian collective Chto Delat teaches us within their learning play simply that “communism is bad and it brings dead people”.. i wonder ..
In my opinion, every crtiticism regarding the performance/event, Brook and Baker and the organizers should not mean that Roma fight against each other. More central is a self-criticism, which is, in my view, urgently necessary to learn from mistakes, grow with them and getting the current dramatic situation changed. The question Marika asked, ” Who profits from such kinds of events?”, is adequate and legitimate in my opinion. I am not likely to speak of “we” because I think that there is no such thing as a “we” in reality. I want to have the right to criticize Non-Roma and Roma, as well, when they cooperate with the system and thus do more harm to Roma instead of standing up against the existing power structures.
Marika Schmiedt
In reaction to the Roma Pavilion, Venice (2011), and Former West’s “A Roma Model/ The Cosmopolitan Other?” panel (Berlin, Germany, 2013).
BAK, basis voor actuele kunst 2011

BAK, basis voor actuele kunst 2011

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2013 1:38 PM

    Damn, there’s something murky about Berlin / Netherlands collaboration, they are stupidly racist… For example, last year and still “going”: /// more on the topic:

  2. March 20, 2013 7:23 PM

    Reblogged this on marikaschmiedt.


  1. “A Roma Model/ The Cosmopolitan Other?” (Berlin, Germany) | Der Paria


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