After numerous national and international museum partnerships and several independent exhibitions, in 2023, Heritage House of Budapest is hosting our newest exhibition, titled “Romani Design Fashion Art: Activism for Traditions.”
The initiator and chief curator of the exhibition is Dr. Szilvia Czingel, the director of the Museum of Folk Art, with visual design and graphic elements by Dr. Beatrix Torma and Zalán Péter Salát. The artwork labels were written by Lili Kriston.
The main theme of the exhibition’s concept is activism, exploring the many layers, mechanisms, and methodologies of activist art through the numerous activities of the fashion studio. In the exhibition’s first, opening space, visitors can see some iconic and characteristic pieces from collections presented over the past 13 years, accompanied by archival and contemporary photographs and interactive artwork descriptions. Through the exhibited pieces, visitors can get acquainted with the vision of Romani Design’s designers, their creative methods, and the cultural mission that inspired the brand, both through personal experience and visual impressions.
Among the displayed garments, there are also original vintage pieces belonging to our mother and maternal grandmother: our creative approach, using traditional and contemporary pieces simultaneously, is rooted in the example set by our ancestors.
On the gallery’s walls, thematic bilingual flip-through “lookbook” booklets are available, featuring the curator’s text related to the exhibition, accompanied by handmade textile-based assemblage images. These images showcase the methods predating the era of Romani Design’s sustainability efforts and the preparation phases of handmade and digitized textile patterns.
The emphasis in the second space of the exhibition lies on activist activities conveyed through verbal messages and fashion itself. The bookbinding material used evolves from a background material into a primary material for the sculpture-dresses. Various messages reflecting the brand’s activist mindset are written on the dresses, in both English and Hungarian. Through these messages, the pieces and creations crafted by us manifest our own worldview, illustrating the communicative and perspective-shaping resources hidden within fashion and attire for visitors. These messages touch upon the importance of social responsibility, the responsibility that comes with knowledge, and the challenges inherent in individual identity. They also express our stance against cultural exploitation. Additionally, the exhibition includes two video installations, one being an interview recorded at Heritage House, and the other a video montage composed of footage from previous fashion shows.
The latest temporary exhibition at Ludwig Museum is titled ‘Handle with Care’- in the framework of the exhibition, our interactive installation called ‘Romani Design – Art in the Library‘ was created using materials from the nomadic library publications collected by ERIAC-RomaMoMA and OFF-Biennale Budapest. The installation also includes unique thematic Romani Design textile collages and handmade, homeware textiles, which can also be viewed in the museum’s library.
Dr. Beatrix Torma, a visual designer, Erika Varga, Helena Varga, founders of Romani Design, and curator Lili Kriston were involved in constructing the installation.”
ART IN THE LIBRARY
“The ladder to the world” – the RomaMoMA Nomadic Library feat. Romani Design is an interactive installation was created in the spirit of functionality, adaptability, and activism, as a conceptual, site-specific extension of the exhibition titled ‘Handle with Care‘ at the Ludwig Museum. The exhibition is the many meanings of caring, exploring its essence and various layers.
Romani Design is the world’s first Roma fashion studio: the founding designers, Erika Varga and Helena Varga, have been engaged in activist and creative activities in the fields of fashion, applied arts, community development, and music for more than 13 years now, applying the traditional elements, motifs, and fashion as a communication platform, using a comprehensive, interdisciplinary method. The designers’ activist attitude is present in all their work, projects, and partnerships: placing Roma clothing culture where it rightfully belongs, creative work based on sustainable fashion and upcycling principles, and messages aimed at society, including an emphasis on social responsibility and the power of knowledge – all these make the creative duo authentic and experienced representatives of the contemporary creative industry.
Now Ludwig Museum houses their latest installation, which is connected to the RomaMoMA Nomadic Library created by ERIAC and OFF-Biennále Budapest. RomaMoMA symbolizes the theory of a museum exhibiting contemporary Roma art: since the founding, Romani Design has been supporting and building the prestige of Roma culture and clothing culture nationally and internationally. This has been achieved through numerous museum partnerships, independent exhibitions, and fashion collections presenting Roma clothing culture in contemporary context.
The starting point of their current artistic concept, created in collaboration with interior designer dr. Beatrix Torma, was the practical usability of the installation and its potential for continued use following the project’s completion, in line with modern museum practices and environmental consciousness. The central element of the installation is a structure consisting of two ladders with shelves: the ladder symbolizes progress, efficient work, and the journey between Earth and the sky. The ladder is a bridge, a connecting point among the fragmented communities of our world. It reflects on the designers’ views on the absence of a unified, conventional written form of the Romani language, as well as the extent and quality of academic representation.
Within the project, 6 large-scale assemblage textile paintings were created using handmade patchwork techniques, unique Romani Design prints, and vintage materials, attached to the fabric used in bookbinding. The images are in relation to the exhibition’s theme and the cultural mission represented by Romani Design. The images include, among other things, the international Romani anthem “Gelem Gelem” with lyrics in the Hungarian language written by Varga Helena, portraits of outstanding deceased Romani artists in the field of Hungarian culture, excerpts from the animated series titled “Cigánymesék” (Gypsy Tales) by the Kecskeméti Filmgyár, details related to Marian Devotion, building on both written and visual codes in their impact mechanisms.
In the twenty-first century, a library serves not only as a temple of knowledge acquisition but also functions as a communal space: the creators of Romani Design enhanced the ladder installation with their own designed textiles, complementing the existing furniture in the library: the graphic design of the tablecloths were designed by Zalán Péter Salát.
Lili Kriston – Romani Design
Among the exhibited artworks, two Romani Design compositions were featured at the ‘Barvalo,’ exhibition, which refers to wealth and pride in Romanes, held at the Mucem – Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean in Marseille during the Summer of 2022. The exhibition focused on the iconic creators and artworks, as well as the heritage of the European Roma community and the centuries-old history of Roma culture. The two exhibited Romani artifacts are from the Madonna collection presented in 2021. Among our six textile designs/prints showcased in the ‘Circulation: Romani Design’ exhibition at the Museum of Applied Arts, the ‘Temple’ and the Paradise on Earth’ were featured on the exhibited garments. The attire, headdress, and belt displayed on the podium are part of the Romani Carmen ensemble worn by Natasa Tasic, an opera singer, at the 2021 Tajsa Awards ceremony in the National Theatre of Belgrade. The black satin midi dress debuted at the 2021 SS Central European Fashion Week as part of the conceptual Romani Madonna collection, exploring the Gypsy Madonna motif, initially showcased at the Bálna and now owned by MUCEM.
The exhibition was a collaboration between MUCEM and ERIAC.
Our previous solo exhibition was created in cooperation with the Hungarian Museum of Applied Arts: the main themes of the Körforgásban-in circulation exhibition were family, traditions, and faith, with special emphasis on the depiction of the Madonna in pictures and artifacts. The designers used six objects from the museum’s collection for inspiration. The exhibition was shown in the Ráth György Villa building of the museum between September 2021 and January 2022: six Romani Design prints, clothing and accessories were created for the exhibition (Church, Blessing, Celebration, Earthly Paradise, Women’s Emancipation and Innocence), which are now part of the museum’s permanent collection.
The official image video from the exhibition:
The footage of dressing the Csatka Virgin Mary in Romani Design attire was also included as a video installation in the exhibition
In 2022, two Romani Design outfits were on display at the Hungarian Kunsthalle-Műcsarnok’s exhibition titled Common Space II; National Salon of Industry and Design. They also participated at the 2018 Common Space exhibition.
It was an extremely honorable invitation to be among the contributing artists for the exhibition ‘Our Finest Moments,‘ created to present Ms. Klára Kósa, an internationally-renowned ceramic artist’s 55-year-long oeuvre, at Pesti Vigadó: our Romani Gold bridal gown was specially crafted for this exhibition and has since been the highlight of our showroom.”