New Exhibit Sheds Light on Canada's Roma Community
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New Exhibit Sheds Light on Canada’s Roma Community

romarisingCA dispels myths of a long-maligned community whose rich cultural legacy is often overshadowed by a history of persecution.

Throughout most of modern Europe’s history, the Roma have endured a rash of pogroms, oppression, repression, and even mass murder during the Nazi holocaust. Most often, the popular sentiments that belie these terrible actions resulted from misconceptions and stereotypes of the Roma peoples as child robbers, thieves, subversives, and other malcontents. A new exhibit at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre sheds light on this misrepresentation, with a focus on Canada’s Roma community.

Driven by an appreciation of the civil-rights era in the United States, Washington D.C.-based portrait photographer Chad Evans Wyatt has travelled through parts of Eastern Europe making images of regular Joes and Janes in Roma communities. His photographs depict a quiet, average side of the much-maligned community. Although there’s a fair share of musical artists, the people photographed defy many of the stereotypes associated with the “Bohemian Gypsy” archetype so many in Europe have been exposed to.

romarisingCA was born out of Evans Wyatt’s search for a portrait of the famed Romani-Canadian writer Ronald Lee, which led to a broader examination of the Roma community in Canada. Evans Wyatt describes the unique aspects of these portraits of our Roma compatriots as an “obvious freedom on the visages of those within the Canada folio.”

With a total Canadian population of around 5,000 according to the 2011 census, the Romani community here isn’t nearly the same size or scale as that of our southern neighbour, which boasts approximately one million Roma inhabitants. Yet the people Evans Wyatt show us occupy jobs that run the gamut of society we’re all living within. Roma occupy positions in construction, the arts, business, and government on the provincial and federal level. Many have chosen to give back to society, becoming Romani-language teachers, continuing to promote the culture to new generations. As the exhibit shows, there are Roma social workers helping to bring others out of poverty and isolation, and Roma paramedics that attend to us in our most dire times of need.

It’s the profundity of normality in these photographs that could help to break the stories of old—it breaths new life into a popular culture saturated with dangerous stereotypes of the “gypsy.” Many faces depicted in romarisingCA are conventional refugees, or former refugees who’ve become Canadian citizens.

This month saw Yom HaShoah, the Jewish Holocaust memorial day, on April 20. Appropriately, the Miles Nadal JCC is displaying a selection of the portraits Evans Wyatt made of Romani-Canadians during this time. The portraits can be seen in their gallery on the ground floor of the building until May 2.