Old Pictures, New Stories—Roma Inclusion in Serbia and Montenegro through Family Albums

Family photos, organized in an album, or piled in folders or boxes keep our generational memories and interpretations of our past alive. They tell stories about people, families but also about societies.

The Family Album project–designed and carried out by NGO KIOSK in partnership with ProStory and partially supported by Open Society Arts and Culture Program–aims to tell previously unheard stories about the Roma community in Serbia and Montenegro over the last 60 years. The project was built on the collaborative work of two artists and 23 Roma families. Artists researched family histories through private photo albums and interviews with the family members of people featured in the photographs. Family gatherings, special events, family portraits, travels, or fleeting moments of everyday life all feature puzzle pieces that retrospectively put together a history otherwise untold. Complemented by the oral testimonies of family members, the Family Album project also tells a story of exclusion, lack of acceptance, and prejudice endured by these Roma families. To ground the project in the present as well as in the past, a new portrait of each family involved was taken.

Stereotypes and preconceptions around minority groups remains a sad reality of life today. For Roma, this is a daily problem. It is not however one which should go unchallenged. The authors of this project raise the possibility of change through this opportunity to learn about the Roma living next door, around the corner, or in the neighboring village.

This project is not about the creators’ version of people’s memories or past. The families involved decided for themselves which photos to choose and how the family should be photographed at the end of the project. The way families are represented in the project is in harmony with their own visual perception and does not impose an external image of the Roma community. The full visual material of the project can be viewed on the Family Album website.

Artist Ana Adamović and researcher Milica Pekić see this project as atypical for Kiosk NGO in terms of its participatory nature and use of photography as a creative tool of the communication. In their words: “The unique quality of this particular project was, most of all, openness and enthusiastic cooperation coming from the families that participated in the project, since they’ve decided to share with us and the wider public their private histories and family photographs. Many members of the families represented in the project were surprised to see the final exhibition since they hadn’t expected it to be so big and their stories so well presented. Their feeling was that such an exhibition can show the Roma minority in a different light than those stereotypical views that are so common for our contemporary society; the Roma involved were genuinely glad they’ve agreed to participate in the project.”

The newly created photographs together with photos from the private photo albums along with the interview material were presented at an exhibition in Belgrade from September 10 to 17. The Family Album project will be opened on October 3, 2012, in Podgorica, Montenegro at the JU, Muzeji i galerije, Ul. Marka Miljanova br.4 The exhibition will be open until October 10, 2012.

TV reports on the exhibition opening in Belgrade can be viewed here and here.

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