Let Us Now Praise The Roma: Karen Graffeo offers scenes of an elusive culture
“I did not go into Roma culture as either a tourist or a journalist,” Karen Graffeo said. “I went as an artist, a participant and an observer. I see and want to share the culture, human wealth and valor within those Roma populations.”
Graffeo’s collection of documentary photographs, currently on display in the Odessa Woolfolk Gallery at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute offers more than a glimpse into the lives of the complex culture of the Roma people of Northern Italy. The University of Montevallo professor and professional artist spent 15 years among the refugee encampments, caravans, slums and housing projects of the Romani, or “gypsies,” and has emerged with a body of work that is consistently gaining national and international attention.
According to the BCRI, the Roma have a long history of living in Europe with a presence recorded since the 13th century and are now recognized as one of the European Union’s largest minority groups, numbering more than 10 million. Faced with high unemployment rates and strained budgets, some EU members are finding it easier to stigmatize and expel Roma than to provide them with the education, housing and employment they seek, the BCRI said.
According to BCRI Head of Education and Exhibition Ahmad Ward, the history of the Roma in Europe parallels that of African Americans in the Southern U.S.
“Romani cultural creation aims to challenge mainstream culture, identity, and representation, just as the African American civil rights movement in the United States changed the whole of America’s identity,” Ward said.
“For too long, the Roma have been misrepresented by stereotypes: the beggar, the prostitute, the compassionate victim, the folkloric artist,” Ward continued. “Those stereotypes overshadow the nuances of Romani culture and identity, which have to be the result of political struggle.”
For Graffeo, Let Us Now Praise the Roma is an opportunity to lend a voice to a seemingly voiceless group.
“This exhibition is such a validation that this group of people is seen,” Graffeo said. “It opens doors for understanding and creates a movement towards breaking down prejudice and barriers to dignity.”
Let Us Now Praise The Roma will be on display at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, 520 16th Street North, Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sundays, 1–5 p.m. until Sept. 13. Tickets are $12. For more information, visit bcri.org.
FRIDAY, JULY 24
Irondale Arts Pop-Up Show — Habitat Birmingham ReStore. 7952 Crestwood Blvd. Irondale’s “Out of the Blue in the Dale” is a two-day pop-up art show presented by the Irondale Arts Council featuring select local artists. Drawing, painting, jewelry and other artwork will be on sale in support of the Irondale Arts Council. Artists will also demonstrate techniques through a variety of media. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Free. For more information, visit Irondale Arts Council on Facebook.
TUESDAY, JULY 28
Cory Casella Exhibit Opening Reception — Hoover Public Library. 200 Municipal Dr. Cory Casella shares his “one-liners,” pen and ink drawings using a single line to create images in this exhibit available in the Friends Gallery at the Hoover Library through July 31. Casella credits the constraint of one line to granting the artist focus while making shapes and shadows in interesting ways. 5:30–7:30 p.m. For more information, call (205) 444-7800.
Daisy Winfrey at Rojo — Rojo. 2921 Highland Ave. Daisy Winfrey has been making “creepy, yet endearing art since 1984,” according to her bio. Her media of choice as described by her Etsy store: “Anything, everything, plus glitter.” The artist currently has he work on display in Rojo’s Side Gallery. Free. For more information, visit rojobham.com.
Beth Conklin at Joy Gallery — The Joy Gallery. 513 Columbiana Rd. Beth Conklin’s dreamy Wonderland is full of characters inspired by old photographs with a delicate edge of eeriness. Her collage and digital artwork will be on display at the Joy Gallery in Homewood Cumberland Presbyterian Church until July 26. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.–2 p.m. Free. For more information, call (205) 942-3051.
Inherited Scars: A Meditation on the Southern Gothic — Birmingham Museum of Art. 2000 Rev. Abraham Woods, Jr. Blvd. Curated by University of Alabama at Birmingham students, this photography exhibit explores the complex history of the South through fine art representations and documented photography. Tuesday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Sunday 12–5 p.m. Free. For more information, visit artsbma.org.
Between Fantasy and Reality – Birmingham Museum of Art. 2000 Rev. Abraham Woods Jr. Blvd. Frank Fleming has been working as an artist in Alabama for more than 40 years and best known for his large-scale bronze sculptures, many of which can be found throughout the city Birmingham. This exhibition highlights Fleming’s sculptures produced between 1970-1985, a period when he worked primarily with clay, stoneware and ceramics. Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sunday 12–5 p.m. For more information, visit artsbma.org.
Divine Debris — Naked Art Gallery. 3831 Clairmont Ave. S. Birmingham artists Jeff Wells and Pamela Hamby present their scrap metal and glass bottle sculpture pieces in a new Naked Art Gallery exhibition. The duo has collaborated to present quirky, environment-friendly creations from post-consumer materials. Tuesday–Saturday, 10:30 a.m.–6 p.m. Through July 25. Free. For more information, visit nakedartusa.com.
Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College — Birmingham Museum of Art. 2000 Reverend Abraham Woods Jr. Blvd. Hale Woodruff is a patriarch of African American art. His narrative realism murals depict highlights in the history of Talladega College and the Amistad mutiny and trial. The entire exhibit chronicles Woodruff’s artistic growth through decades of reinvention and will be available through September 6. Free. For more information, visit artsbma.org.