The Stream

How is Roma activist art challenging stereotypes?

Roma often experience hate and social exclusion, but many Roma artists – especially women – are using their work to fight sexism, racism, and discrimination.

What’s the Romani word for “feminism”? The answer is “Giuvlipen” – which also happens to be the name of a Romanian theatre company showcasing “some of the most widespread stereotypes about Roma women across the world”.

Formed by a group of Roma actresses in 2014, the troupe’s performance explores and busts stereotypes about Roma women and culture, challenging perceptions held both within and outside the community. The theatre company’s founders invented the term “Giuvlipen” because there was no previous Romani word for feminism.

“Roma art has always been marginalized because of the segregation of Roma people”, said the group in a 2016 interview. “There is a certain curiosity about Roma women in non-Roma communities…it was quite a surprise to observe through our audiences how invisible Roma women actually were and how the simple fact of our existence was a novelty.”

But such “invisibility” continues to deprive millions of Roma in Europe from access to schooling and employment, despite being the largest ethnic minority group in the region. The European Union created a plan in 2011 to help integrate Roma communities into the group, and while some progress has been made, EU Commission officials say much more work needs to be done to improve standards of living for Roma communities.

In August 2017, EU Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: “Member States have to accelerate their efforts to improve Roma integration if we are to put an end to the prejudices, segregation and discrimination still felt by Roma today.”

So, how are Giuvlipen and other Roma artists using their talents to change negative narratives about their communities?

In this episode, The Stream speaks with Roma activists to discuss the impact of their artwork, and to explore the discrimination and challenges they regularly encounter.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:​

Nicoleta Bitu @NicoBitu
President, Democratic Federation of Roma from Romania  

Mihaela Dragan @giuvlipen
Actress and playwright

Alina Serban @AlinaSerban87
Roma theater artist 
Founder, Untold Stories Theatre Company

Lisa Smith @ttimesyouth
News Editor, Traveller’s Times 

Read more:

Romania’s Roma culture seeks stage to depict discrimination – Reuters
‘A place to call our own’: Europe’s first Roma cultural centre opens in Berlin – The Guardian
Contemporary Roma art is opening eyes in Europe – Der Spiegel

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.