Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Art & Art History

First Advisor

Deborah Haynes,

Second Advisor

Kirk Ambrose

Third Advisor

James Cordova


The Roma have historically been represented in art and literature as nomads, free from the burdens of civilized society, and one with nature and the elements. From the sixteenth century gypsy child sketched by Leonardo da Vinci to the carefree life of artists living La Vie Bohème in nineteenth century Paris, the "Gypsy" existence is one of myth. This narrative imposed on the minority Roma by the majority European public has little to do with reality. The history of the European Romani community is one of expulsions, pogroms, violence, and genocide. Despite attempts to establish guidelines for human rights during the expansion of the European Union, the oppressive and racist treatment of the Romani continues to this day.

While the history of art has enlisted the myth of the Gypsy in support of the idea of the modern, independent artist, the art world in practice has marginalized the Roma, labeling their creative work as folk art, outsider art, or kitsch. This thesis will look at three examples of public creative engagement of the Roma community: the Roma and Sinti memorial in Berlin, the First Roma Pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale, and the Reconsidering Roma exhibit in Berlin in 2011. Utilizing the structures of the international art world, the Roma artists involved with these events engaged the world community as a means of combating the prejudice experienced by many Roma today.

Through activism, the international the art world, and contemporary art, Roma artists, as members of Europe's largest minority, engage the concepts of space, the nation-state, and boundaries in the formation of identity. The issues addressed in this thesis are key elements in the broader pursuit of security and identity of the European Roma community. Their experience is an ideal case study of the larger questions of post-unification European identity.