26 Oct FAMILY ALBUM, 2011 – 2012
Authors of the project: Ana Adamović and Milica Pekić
I keep these photos as a souvenir. I take good care of them so when people come and ask me about my family, I have photos to show them. (Zoran Jašarević, Vranje, Serbia)
Family photographs are among the most important documents that bear testimony to the history of a family. Events such as weddings, birthdays, travels, first days at school, various celebrations, etc. are documented as important moments in the biography of most families and testify about times past and family members, who are thus inscribed in the memory of generations to come. All those photographs, usually stored in family albums, are meant for the family’s private circle and were typically not exposed to the public, until the relatively recent rise of the Internet and social networks. Arranged as narratives of family histories by family members themselves, they offer a subjective look inside.
Almost everyone has albums like that, or at least piles of photographs stashed away in cardboard boxes at some point. Exploring family archives of this kind and often unmarked photographs entails an interlocutor who can direct the outside observer into the secrets of the people and events shown in the pictures.
The Family Album project engages precisely in uncovering such family histories of our fellow Roma citizens living in Serbia and Montenegro, hidden in albums and boxes, and thus opens dialogues with interlocutors who are often marginalised. But, the stories that browsing through family photographs call forth are not only about the Roma community, but also about the history of the region over the past several decades. With the exception of a few segments, such as the distinctive wedding customs and traditional celebrations of the Roma people, the photographs feature scenes that are quite similar to those that most of us have in our own family albums – photographs from our travels around the former Yugoslavia’s most popular tourist spots, photographs documenting our first days at school, military oaths, birthdays, funerals, etc. The photographs show the traumatic years of war in the former Yugoslavia, stories about exile, departures, and family partings.
Browsing through family photographs also points to a symptom that is unfortunately characteristic of the Roma people living in large urban environments such as Belgrade – the nonexistence of family photographs older than ten or twenty years due to frequent and forced relocations or misfortunes caused by living in absolutely inadequate and unregulated settlements.
Of course, the project addresses a specific ethnic minority in Serbia and Montenegro today, as well as its integration – or lack thereof – in our societies today. It asks whether and how much the everyday life of the region’s Roma community has changed over the past sixty years or so, how and why, and it asks about the attitudes of the majority population toward the Roma community. The conversations with Roma family members uncover the levels of prejudice in the majority population, administrative neglect, and the feeling of not belonging on the part of people who are native to many towns and cities of Serbia and Montenegro today.
The Family Album project was realised as a participatory artwork, in which our interlocutors got to create representative images of themselves and their families – from selecting the photographs to deciding how the family would be photographed at the end. With this work method, we tried to avoid as much as possible imposing any readymade images of the Roma community, hoping to make the family members’ stories available to the wide public.
However one chooses to interpret and view the material assembled in the Family Album project, it certainly enables a different look at our fellow Roma citizens, of whom we often know too little, but tend to judge them all too easily, based on deeply ingrained prejudices.
We would like to use this opportunity to thank the members of each of the 23 families, who warmly welcomed us in their homes and shared their family stories with us, browsing through their family albums. The hospitality we felt everywhere and our interlocutors’ openness are this project’s most precious ingredient. Also, we would like to thank the many nongovernmental organisations and individuals who have spent years working on the problem of integrating the Roma people in Serbia and Montenegro, whose contacts and recommendations were vital for meeting the families who took part in the project. The Family Album project could not happen without their support.
Ana Adamović and Milica Pekić
Project realized by Kiosk-platform for contemporary art
Design: Isidora Nikolić
(Porodični album – Familiako albumi – Family Album, Beograd, Kiosk, 2012, ISBN 978-86-84977-09-2)
Full PDF file of the publication available on request