Blog 8: Ekphrastic Poetry– poems inspired by visual art by Romani people

Romani art is an overlooked treasure. Of course a culture so rich with symbolism, song, lore, and history would produce incredible art! So few people understand that “Gypsies” are a real ethnic group with cultures and sub-cultures, tribes/groups, spirituality, cuisine, music, dance, folk stories, dress, and on and on, so naturally we don’t hear a lot about the contemporary Romani arts scene. And as Roma are an underrepresented oppressed minority, the opportunities for Romani artists are few and many assimilated Roma are not safe to disclose their ethnicity. The Romani human rights crisis has been called “Europe’s shame” by Amnesty International and the UN. But it’s not just Europe.

“With a population of 10 to 12 million, the Roma are one of the largest and most disadvantaged minorities in Europe. Six million live in the EU.

Hundreds of thousands of Roma have been forced to live in informal settlements and camps, often without heating, water or sanitation; tens of thousands are forcibly evicted from their homes every year.

Thousands of Romani children are placed in segregated schools and receive a substandard education.

Roma are often denied access to jobs and quality health care. They are victims of racially motivated violence and are often left unprotected by the police and without access to justice.

This is not a coincidence. It is the result of widespread discrimination and racism…”

But thank goodness that the Roma persevere and that Roma and Romani allies speak out against injustice. Art gives voice to the voiceless, to cultures and generations, to nations and people united through symbols, stories, history, union, and discord.

Ekphrastic poerty is poetry written about/inspired by a work of art, so as you can imagine, this week’s poem is to be written about a piece of visual art created by a Romani person. Your poem can respond to any aspect of the artwork– maybe you want to recreate the color scheme and mood of the painting, or maybe you want to create an extended metaphor using the artwork’s symbols. Consider how culture, rituals, politics, and beliefs play in the piece too.

In your blog post, due Thursday, I’d like you to analyze the artwork you’ve selected using the elements and principles of art and specific examples. Read the artwork like you would a poem. You can also use this your analysis to discuss what you want to write your poem about and why. Make sure to include an image of the artwork you’ve chosen, the title and the artist’s name, and a link to the work. The artwork that you choose to analyze in your blog response is the same artwork that you’ll use to write your ekphrastic poem. Likewise, the artist’s name and the work’s title should appear in your poem’s title or subtitle so the reader understands the context and references.To get you started on analysis, consider this: what are the patterns? How does the artist use artistic elements and principles? What are their effects? What does the paining depict? What are the symbols used? 300 words or more.

For example, the poem we read today, “The Gypsy from India” by the Romani poet Nicolas Jimenez Gonzalez in Roads of the Roma, referenced dogs. When analyzing the poem, it’s important to know that dogs are considered marimé (ritually unclean) by most Romani groups.

“Marimé taboos extend to animals as well, from the edibility of certain types of meat to pet ownership. Romaniya prohibits cruelty to animals and they may only be killed for food. The German Sinti consider eating horse flesh a serious offense, as do other tribes. The exclusion of horse meat has more to do with respect than to marime, the horse has been so important to the Roma’s mobility and survival in the past.

Dogs and cats are considered polluted because of their unclean living habits. Roma consider cats particularly unclean because they lick their paws after burying their feces. The critical concern, as with dogs licking themselves, is that the uncleanliness of the external world may defile the purity of the inner self if it is permitted to enter the body through the mouth. Cats are also a sign of impending death to many tribes. If a cat sets foot in a house, trailer, or automobile, a purification ceremony may be required. Dogs are also unclean, but to a lesser extent. Dogs are tolerated outside the house because of their value as watchdogs.”

So whether you’re analyzing a poem, story, or painting, make sure that you take the initiative to look up what elements of the artwork might mean to Romani people, while bearing in mind that Romani culture is in no way homogeneous. On Wednesday we’re having class at the Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts on 530 W Call St (so go straight there for class) and learning more about visual analysis, so you’ll have a chance to practice before the blog is due.

Again, this week’s blog is due Thursday instead of the usual Friday because on Friday I’m going to make a blog art show slideshow out of all the pieces the class selects.

Some links to Romani artists:

Here is a list of links to Romani artists’ names, works, and/or websites, as well as some other helpful resources: links to artworks by Romani artists Marcel Hognon, Manouche sculptor Mona, Manouche painter a list of names of Romani artists that you can Google for images and information Museum of Roma Culture, Brno, Czech Republic Click on the artist that you want to learn more about Art by Romani women Lita Cabellut, Romani painter from Barcelona Elements and Principles of art

Feel free to branch out and do more research to find a piece of art not listed here. The most important thing is that you find a work by a Romani artist that inspires you.


Lita Cabellut, “Billie Holiday,” 2013. Mixed Media on canvas.

Keep an eye out for Lita Cabellut’s artwork in the next issue of The Southeast Review



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