Welcome to the Romani Canon Project: an ERIAC (European Roma Institute of Arts and Culture)-funded archive detailing the intellectual and creative contributions of Romani women. Modeled after other initiatives to “decolonize the canon,” the Romani Canon Project is a public-facing engagement with literature, music, performance art, and critical writing produced by Romani women. Moving away from a tradition that only analyzed Romani artistic and intellectual work through an ethnographic lens, this project demands the audience engage with Romani art and intellectualism as serious, impactful, and critical in processing the history of Romani people in Europe.
The result is a transhistorical, transnational canon that highlights Romani women’s intellectual, creative, and cultural contributions, past and present. This collection features contributors based in Serbia, Romania and the USA, writing on the work of women living in those countries as well as Sweden, North Macedonia and the Czech Republic – as such, it emphasizes the transnational and plural nature of Romani women’s creativity. Caren Gussoff Sumption’s essay on American Sinti poet Jessica Reidy explores how anti-Romani racism can play a role in the “bystander effect” that enables violence and suffering. Meanwhile Sumption herself is the subject of an essay by Glenda Bailey-Mershon which explores how figures of the ‘alien’ in the novelist’s science fiction approach offer an oblique lens on Romani life and identity.
We are also proud to include two pieces which foreground Roma women as musical artists shaping their own image in the latter half of the twentieth century. Essays by Jelena Savić and Carol Silverman on Vida Pavlović and Esma Redžepova, respectively, illustrate the complexities of navigating between Roma and non-Roma audiences, and present their subjects as pioneering, self-determining figures in their own artistic fields, capable of creating powerful effects on their listeners and within the culture at large.
Elsewhere, two essays in the collection indicate the importance of education. Roxana-Mădălina Gheorghe sensitively dissects the ‘message of Katitzi’ in Katerina Taikon’s books, which focused on a child’s perspective in their portraits of the Roma minority in Sweden in the 1930s and 40s, including the possibility for change that comes with increased cultural understanding. Taking as her subject the multifaceted activism and advocacy of Petra Gelbart, lastly, Siv B. Lie considers a figure for whom ‘advocacy and research are mutually constitutive,’ encouraging readers to think about the necessary overlaps between historical research, political engagement, and contemporary artistic performance.
All in all, the ethos of the project is to urge academia and the public to engage with Romani people, especially Romani women, outside of a strictly anthropological methodology. Romani people are not a monolith, but are scholars, artists, and activists. Romani women’s creative and intellectual work deserves critical engagement, and hopefully this canon project will be a turning point in how people write about Romani women.