Regarding Marika Schmiedt’s request for permission of showing her art installation in Kirchstetten (Austria)
Buffalo, August 6, 2015
Dear Mayor Paul Horsak,
I was just informed that you have denied artist Marika Schmiedt the permission to exhibit her temporary art installation, “Futschikato – Die verschwundenen Roma und Sinti aus Kirchstetten und der “Fall Weinheber““ in your city. It is with great dismay that I read your letter to Schmiedt, especially your reasoning:
“Erinnerung ja, aber es muss auch einmal Schluss sein mit Aufarbeitung und Auseinandersetzung.”
What do you exactly mean when you write: “remembering yes, but there has to be an end to processing and confronting the past”? What kind of memory making of the murder and deportation of Roma and Sinti do you think is adequate? And why do you presume we should put a stop to processing and confronting this history? Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, why do you feel entitled to make such a decision on behalf of your community, and in extension, on behalf of Kirchstetten’s history?
It worries me greatly that as a leader of this Kirchstetten community, you are not supporting an artist’s engagement with the history of National Socialism in the region, especially the discrimination and murder of Roma and Sinti. While it is reasonable to fear that such critical engagement is uncomfortable and conceivably difficult to face, the erasure of that past has catastrophic consequences. As is well known, Roma and Sinti are still the most persecuted and discriminated minority in Europe. Your city has the extraordinary opportunity, if not responsibility, to confront its own past, and to do so in a way that faces even the most humiliating truths, such as the Nazi past of a celebrated poet in town, Josef Weinheber.
I would also like to note that Marika Schmiedt is one of the most important artists in Europe who deals with the history of the Roma holocaust, and whose work has been exhibited widely, including being featured in the prestigious Venice Biennial in 2011. Her work was also included in “Roma Protokoll,” an exhibition in 2011 curated by Suzana Milevska, the recipient of the 2012 Igor Zabel Award for Culture and Theory. In response to Schmiedt’s work, distinguished literary critic and theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak noted that:
“Marika [Schmiedt] has made the subaltern speak, in a certain way for sure, through representation, but much more forcefully. If the subaltern is the group that cannot achieve the state – Antonio Gramsci’s classic definition – the Roma Holocaust didn’t even make it into Hannah Arendt’s insistence that the banality of evil springs from the premises of the state. The Roma Holocaust is not allowed into this widely accepted generalization. That is subalternity, not just not achieving the state, but not even achieving the record of the banality of the evil state.”
Spivak’s words speak volumes here, but most significantly, they comment on Schmiedt’s resistance to accepting the erasure of this history of violence, which has marked many families in your own community. Trauma theorist and historian Dominick LaCapra has suggested that art is a cultural form that “may even be a means of bearing witness to, enacting, and, to some extend, working over and through trauma whether personally experienced, transmitted from inmates or sensed in a larger social and cultural setting.” Even though you speak of the young generation, which you note is not responsible for the atrocities that happened more than seven decades ago, I must disagree with the implication that these generations do not need to learn about this past in a way that is confrontational and that directly involves the urgent problems of our contemporary moment. Europe as a whole still has to confront much of its violent history, especially in regard to Roma and Sinti, and the devastating conditions under which many Roma and Sinti live today. Marika Schmiedt’s installation has the potential of bearing witness to these atrocities and bringing some form of healing to your community and beyond, even if it involves facing painful truths.
I hope that you will reconsider your decision and grant Marika Schmiedt the permission to exhibit this installation in Kirchstetten.
Dr. Jasmina Tumbas
Department of Art
University at Buffalo
PS: For more information on Spivak’s discussion of the exhibition “Roma Protokoll,” please consult http://igkultur.at/projekte/romanistan/making-visible.