Ambivalence towards Roma continues to endure in the minds of Europeans. The figure of the Gypsy has greatly influenced the artists and thinkers of the avant-garde from the nineteenth-century romantics to the Bohemians of the early twentieth century. Such unorthodox approaches to creative living personified by the Gypsy have an important role to play in rethinking society, yet those same transgressive possibilities continue to fuel mistrust wedded to the notion of Roma as unfixed, un-rooted, and more significantly—unaccountable. The casual conflation of the lives and traditions of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities with asylum seekers and refugees—as political subjects and as fantasised 'other'—has created one of the most misunderstood and marginalised sections of society. Shifting perspective can reveal that those very qualities which mark Roma as suspect at the same time represent a compelling potential to challenge boundaries and perhaps offer new ways of understanding ourselves and our lives together.
Shiftwork brings together four artists who through their work tease out a number of aesthetic and political issues concerning Gypsy, Roma and Traveller lives through cultural representation. Some of the works were previously shown as solo presentations as part of the Gypsy Maker project; an innovative and ground-breaking concept devised, owned and developed by the Romani Cultural & Arts Company. The aim is to commission established and emerging artists to develop new work that engages GRT communities and the wider public in dialogue about contemporary art and cultural perspectives. This 2018 project is supported by Arts Council of Wales and is commissioned and owned by the Romani Cultural and Arts Company.
Each of the artists takes a different approach – from the documentary style of Artur Conka, one of the few Roma to have filmed their own community, to the sculptural installations of Daniel Baker which examine migration and free movement. The idiosyncratic paintings of Shamus McPhee have a distinct 'outsider art' feel while complex issues of sexuality and gender are explored in the eclectic work of Billy Kerry. These unique approaches to contemporary Romani culture draw people together by highlighting the links between communities whilst at the same time recognising and celebrating difference. For this show at g39 a number of the works produced during the Gypsy Maker project will be shown, alongside new collaborative works developed in dialogue with g39.