In the long history of the Venice Biennale, at the 59th edition of this international art exhibition held in 2022, the presence of Roma art was ensured for the fourth time. Eugen Raportoru‘s exhibition The Abduction from the Seraglio presented under the curatorial eye of Ilina Schileru, focuses on the intimacy of the Roma home through various objects, i.e. installations recognizable and identifiable to many, as well as motifs of oriental wall carpets in Eastern European households. In the Roma Pavilion, Raportoru with his The Abduction from the Seraglio was accompanied by Roma women who offered alternative perspectives on the topic of Abduction through Performative Strategies of Resistance.
This edition of the Venice Biennale was filled with a record number of female artists, and curator Cecilia Alemani pointed out that 127 years of unequal representation had passed and highlighted the importance of respecting female aesthetics and methods. How did Eugene Raportoru’s installation, Abduction from the Seraglio, fit into this scheme and what did you want the global audience to take away from their visit?
It was a historic edition. I am more thrilled to have had the chance to show the Abduction from the Seraglio at this particular time. Firstly, some visitors did not know what exactly Roma meant. So it had an educational purpose also. But the main importance is on representation. Having such amazing exposure during a global event with massive participation and exposure to the various layers of artistic communities (artists, curators, gallerists, and lovers of art) is a chance that may come once in a lifetime. The richness of Roma’s cultural background cannot possibly be shown in one exhibition, and the grief that generated strategies of resistance throughout centuries of misrepresentation cannot be healed in one session. It has to be one of many. That is why I continue on this journey alongside ERIAC and fellow artists of Roma origin, supporting their struggle for affirmation and emancipation. I wish that Roma children and future artists to be proud of their heritage, which is a true gem, I wish they would spark as the rare stones that came to light after longtime repression and pressure. They have a powerful message and the world needs to listen to it. Eugen made his mark with the idealized home environment he built in this exhibition, which encompasses so many things – all that space and furniture talked about the communal chant, the struggle, the traumatic memories, the loss, the grief, and the hope.
How did your interaction with the artist Eugen Raportoru develop from your first encounter with his work to the eventual visit to the studio, and then to the realization of the museum exhibition?
Two years ago, Eugen needed a curator for a big show we were doing at the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant in Bucharest. Back then I just had opened an artist run in the basement of this museum. He was given some proposals and he just picked my name on the spot after hearing a brief presentation of my biography, as we did not work together until then. A think he based his intuition on this. And he was right. At first, I said I didn’t have time to add another collab to my portfolio, but when he told me the theme of his project, based on these carpets, that I have a special interest in, I accepted instantly. We knew each other from afar, as we graduated somehow simultaneously from the same Art University, in Bucharest, but we rarely interacted until that moment. It was a bumpy ride until we succeeded in tracing a form of collaboration, as we are different in approach to the external world, but we have a similar dedication to work and achievement. The museum exhibition was mainly done by him, we had some short studio visits and I understood his approach as it was so familiar to my views, too.
The hard times started after we gained the open call for Venice Biennale participation launched by the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture. At some point, I dedicated my entire time to this exhibition in the frame of the Venice Biennale, as I was also the manager of this project alongside ERIAC, the commissioner. We traveled to Venice to pick the site. I realized it took a lot of energy from me. By the time we had the grand opening, I was in burnout, as I had a lot of things to deal with all at once.
The role of the curator is continuously evolving. How would you describe your approach to curating this exhibition and what would you single out as the best part of its preparation?
Eugen has a particular manner of work, he is very firm on his ideas. If I give him feedback, or I try to change his mind on something, he will take his time to think about it really well before taking a decision. He cares about his process, as every artist should. I found that we are connected somehow, having similar backgrounds and childhood traumas, and developed into an outsider characters. I think that helped us a lot and connected us. So we talk, almost daily sometimes. With the Biennale we became a team. We would talk every day, we would explore ideas every single week. We would meet and have some items picked together for the show. It was fun, he is a joyful character. He laughs a lot, he enjoys life to the fullest. And he is very loyal to his friends, I got to know him better as we did this major exhibition for Venice. So I observe from afar and I try to understand the artist that I am going to be working with, being careful not to alternate his mindset, but only to guide. I ask him about his whereabouts and projections and see if I can connect to his vibration, then I decide if I can work with him or her. And that was the case with Eugen.
Do you visit a lot of exhibitions to get inspired and familiarize yourself with new curatorial practices?
I do, every chance I get. I travel with fellow artists as I am part of a collective, and each time we go abroad, I try to fit in as much art as I can. I will prioritize contemporary museums, private collections, and foundations but I look at everything. I believe that one must have a broad image. You have to be open to politics and criticism. You have to get vulnerable and take a stand. And be open to changing your views. I am not the person I was five years ago, yet along fifteen, when graduating the University of Arts in Bucharest. Traveling, leaving your nest, and meeting international artists will open a lot of doors to ideas and build a sense of connection to others, even though you are not from the same background.
Right now, I am curating Eugen’s solo exhibition in Berlin, organized by Kai Dikhas Foundation at the Educational Forum against Antiziganism in Moritzplatz, Berlin. It is going to be another important step in Eugen’s biography, as we will show the Gelem, Gelem, an installation comprising twelve canvases on the deportation of Roma during the Second World War. It opens on March 16 and closes on May 13.