One of the projects presented in the context of “INHALE!” - the third edition of OFF-Biennale (originally planned for Spring 2020, and postponed because of the global pandemic to 2021) was RomaMoMA, a long-term collaboration between OFF-Biennale Budapest and the Berlin-based European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (ERIAC). With several iterations since 2019, RomaMoMA envisions such a space, in which one can breathe freely, in which social justice, political rights go hand in hand. In the form of a contemporary art project, by means of involving stakeholder communities, and exploiting the possibilities of collective thinking and discourse, as well as the critical and discursive potentials of contemporary art, RomaMoMA “prefiguratively creates” itself: an imagined and yet real space that is home to both the Roma arts and artists. Rather than the realization of a specific museum concept, the project connects a range of programs (exhibitions, film screenings, performance, workshops, etc.), modeling nomadic, flexible institutional operation, which raises questions and formulates statements with the devices of contemporary art. It aspires to achieve all of this in accordance with the museum approaches of the 21st century that extend social engagement to reconsidering the relations of museum narratives, cultural heritage, and contemporaneity.

RomaMoMA at OFF-Biennale 2021 embraced multiple exhibitions and public programs:

The exhibition “Collectivity Carried Out” centered Tamás Péli’s 1983 large-scale panel painting, “Birth”, which depicts an imaginary-dreamed Roma creation myth. It was completed as a commission for the refectory of the children’s home in the town of Tiszadob. Since the panel painting’s removal in 2011, it had been stored in a museum corridor—safe, but unseen. Realized as a collaboration between OFF-Biennale and the Budapest History Museum, the purpose of the exhibition was more than rendering the painting visible: the goal was to introduce the painting into the collective public space, generate discussions, interpretations, and initiate a dialogue about the final placement of the work.

Atist: Tamás Péli

Partner: Budapest History Museum

Curators: Teri Szűcs, Eszter György, Anna Szász

The exhibition “! – Omara Occupies the Sound-Space” was dedicated to the life work of Mara Oláh, alias Omara, one of the most influential, internationally acknowledged Hungarian Roma painters. The artist passed away in March 2020, but the visual power of her narrative painting, and the emotional load of her captions have rendered Omara’s voice eternal. By addressing and actively involving people (representatives of cultural spaces and institutions) who were important to Omara, the exhibition recalled the stages of her career with the help of such boundary objects that express the artist’s impact on them, the experiences of encounters and collaborations. A fundamental element of the exhibition was a theatrical reading, where the diverse voices of Omara’s autobiography were sounded by Roma and non-Roma women. The exhibition was complemented by guided tours and education sessions at the Glove Factory Community Space, which transformed the exhibition into a backdrop to the social encounter between Budapest’s 8th District locals (the neighborhood in Budapest with the highest concentration of Roma inhabitants) and the OFF-Biennale audience.

Artist: Mara Oláh

Curator: Andrea Pócsik

Participants: Ágnes Blaskó socio drama leader; members of the 8thDistrict women’s community: Éva Galyas, Fanni Iváncsik, Eleonóra Setét; Etelka Jónás community social worker; Tamás Szegedi theatre director 

Partners: Glove Factory Community Centre, Everybody Needs Art, Kugler Art Salon and Gallery, FROKK (Roma Cultural Center, Budapest), Futrinka workshop, UCCU (Roma Informal Educational Foundation)

“Anxiety of the Roma Artist” comprised an installation, a large brick wall by Norbert Oláh in front of the former building of the Roma Parliament in Budapest. The bricks had clearly legible words written on them, representing concepts and perceptions that are ingrained and instilled into us. The choice of venue was an open critique of power. The building was repossessed arbitrarily by the government, justifying this action with their promise of establishing the headquarters of a Roma cultural mega-institute in its place. The banner behind the wall bore the artist’s text titled “Anxiety of the Roma Artist”, in which he makes every effort to put into words the utter confusion felt by an artist, in this case, an artist of Roma roots. The installation was a point of departure for the punk opera, “Tales of Bees”, by the Independent Theater Hungary, about the efforts of Roma communities in different settlements and cities to attain middle-class integration.

Artist: Norbert Oláh

Partner: Independent Theatre