I have been interested in the situation of the Roma communities in Hungary for a long time. Initially I was focusing on the Roma groups living in the eastern part of the country, however recently I have decided to widen my research into a larger area and work with them in several parts of the country.
Currently the situation of the Roma ethnicity in Hungary is regarded mostly as a negative one due to the social prejudices and stereotypes, also as a result of the widespread common talk in the society. In my own experiences too, when it comes to the visual representation of the Roma community we are mostly shown their poverty and struggles, whereas some other -equally important and interesting- aspects of their lives are never represented. Such are their deeply rooted traditions, and particular values, customs, rites and rituals, many of which are still an integral part of their everyday life.
In my work I am documenting public and private Roma events, both in the capital and in the countryside. Contrary to the beliefs and prejudices these events are not about the lack of resources or the suffering and poverty. These occasions focus on their most important values: family life and belonging, with music, dancing and feasting coming to the forefront. In my work I am documenting public and private Roma events, both in the capital and in the countryside. Contrary to the beliefs and prejudices these events are not about the lack of resources or the suffering and poverty. These occasions focus on their most important values: family life and belonging, with music, dancing and feasting coming to the fore front.
Over the last year I have joined them in a wide range of events, from authentic Roma weddings to Roma farewell parties, as well as local cooking competitions or smaller Village Day celebrations.
These private often very close-knit family events have their own diverse but surprisingly strict rules, which can vary from family to family or depending on which group within the Roma ethnicity they belong to (olah, beas, rumongo), and also largely affected by how much traditions are kept alive in a certain community.
In a traditional Roma (olah) family everything has an important role, from the seating arrangements to the colors or clothing items which have strong symbolic meanings, even to the order of the drinks and meals as they are served at a celebratory event.
At these special occasions women and men bear very different rules: women look after the children and the food to be served, they are not allowed to drink alcohol and can only sit at the table to eat after the men have done so, or they are seated at a separate table. The men in the family celebrate together, usually without the women. They raise their glasses and propose toasts to good health, to the family, to happiness and the blessing of more children to come. Money also plays an important role at these celebrations; the men often have their musician play specially requested songs to their loved ones and pay some spectacular sums for it. Roma Cultural days, cooking fairs and Mayday celebrations, religious holidays are among the many other important special events in the Roma communities ‘life. At these events the otherwise strict traditions and rules are less emphasized yet the atmosphere is particular. I find the diverse audiences at these gatherings fascinating as they are so much less inhibited, freer and more colorful in their ways of entertainment than many other nationalities, especially compared to Hungarians.
After some initial disdain I was always completely accepted by the group, often treated as a family member. This openness and acceptance move my work to a different level, to a wider concept of examining and mapping human relationships, social interactions and shared experiences. The sociological aspect of the project is only a sideline. One of the most important factors for me is to become a valid and true participant of these events rather than an outsider documenting them.