Art and Activism

Nov 14, 2012 by

I watched Facebook implode on itself this morning. Shriek cries of “neo-Nazi” and “racist” echoed around most of the Romani groups I am a member of, and all because of two members:

One who created art that was deemed inappropriate and offensive by another (who has made several such claims)

which then escalated into a campaign to oust the artist as a neo-Nazi, fascist, racist, impostor.

It makes me shake my head in despair.

It’s okay for photographers to swan around stereotyping Roma as dirty, uneducated, abjectly poor thieves; it’s okay for authors to write defamatory statements in their books; it’s okay for Holocaust museums to rewrite history without us; it’s okay for governments to trample our rights; it’s okay for media and consumer outlets to portray us as romanticized and sexualized objects; it’s okay for us to be forcibly evicted and corralled like animals – I see no complaints about those things.

but, I see disgusting rumours spread about an artist because she dares to address difficult subjects.

For example:


They are meant to make you feel uncomfortable. As are her other images with swastikas and likenesses of Hitler. You are supposed to squirm, to feel like you want to look away – after all, that’s what the European government is doing in regards to the Roma and in regards to the rising tide of right-wing facist and neo-Nazi groups who openly want to destroy us.

If it makes you feel so uncomfortable, don’t attack the artist who only displays the truth – attack the governments and individuals who are allowing this to take place in their countries unchecked. Confront the real racists in this equation. Don’t hide behind your computer attacking the people who are trying to do something.

Art is not always pretty.

Art is not always uplifting.

Art is not always about the good.

This is art as activism. Art as a political statement. Art as uncomfortably necessary.

[Marika’s other work can be seen here: ARTBRUT. I encourage you to check out the site and create your own opinion]



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  1. I fully understand and support the work and dedication of Marika. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Qristina

      Thank you for your comment :) I know that art is often a difficult medium to understand – it’s so subjective. But, I think that this kind of art is very necessary for precisely that reason. It reassesses the images spewed by governments throughout Europe and incites anger and confusion.

  2. thank you, dear Qristina!
    so great…

  3. Q – Cannot tell you how welcome this has been. Many thanks for your art. Such an honor to be considered worthy by you. We need so very much to look to future. I regret those caught in stereotype of the past, and hope somehow they come along with us.

    Accidents of my own life, I now find a sudden awakening: at last I see the obvious: Rromani women have crossed the threshold. That which was denied my Black sisters in the Civil Rights movement is now the province of Rromani women. An ethnic group propelled by its women, finally presence of the other part of humanity. I have lived long enough to see my mother’s sacrifice honored. I am humbled


    • Qristina

      Czad, I… some how I feel like I should be apologising to you, though for what I am not entirely sure. I don’t feel like I am any particular thing, especially not a strong, worthy, Romani voice. I like to think these … words… will help somehow, but it feels somewhat naive to believe that they can. Photographs such as yours are far more powerful than my words ever could be.

      • I simply echo Marika’s comment. We do what we can do, contribute. Dizzy Gillespie at the end of his life said he wished to be remembered as someone who made a contribution.

  4. we need all.
    photographs, words and graphics…

  5. Ms. Marika, please keep up fighting against the Fascist scum.

  6. Joschi

    Veto! I condemn her art!

  7. Joschi

    yes of course qristina. my father is the men on the picture. he lost 13 members of his family in the holocaust.

    how far can art go? there are limitis?

    • Joschi

      Qristina I wanna hear your opinion. What do you think about this kind of art? How do think about it if a artist call your father a nazi? and what would be your reaction if your father lost 13 family members in the holocaust? would you say … who gives a fuck … it´s just art?

      My great grandfather Anton Rose ran a cinema with his sons in Darmstadt. As early as 1934, the Gau Office of Hessen-Nassau attempted to have Anton Rose excluded by the Reich Chamber of Films, something which would have been the equivalent of an employment ban. Anton Rose thereupon filed a complaint and initially won. In a letter from the Reich Association of German Cinemas to Anton Rose dated 31.8.1934, it was stated that “the unfavorable appearance of a Volksgenossen cannot be grounds for depriving him of his livelihood.” Nevertheless, the irrevocable enforced closure of the family-owned company for “racial” reasons followed three years later. Like many others, Anton Rose was later murdered in Auschwitz. Lisetta Rose (my great grandmother) was deported to Ravensbrück; she died there of debilitation shortly afterwards. A total of 13 members of the Rose family were victims of the genocide.

      • Joschi

        my great grandparents who were murdered in kz auschwitz and kz ravensbrück

      • Qristina

        prebačin mange, na džanav. Of course, you have every right to be angry. I was actually in the process of replying to your last comment as this one came through. So I shall reply to this one now. I was not aware that Marika had made this image. Although I have visited her site, I saw mainly art involving politicians or right-wing neo-Nazi types – which I really don’t have a problem with. I also never said “who gives a fuck it’s just art”. Because art, to me, is very serious and can have huge positive (as well as negative) effects. I believe that in this case, Marika IS wrong and it was not fair, nor right, of her to use your father’s image in this way. From things I have read, your father has done a lot of work in support of the Roma and Sinte in Germany and was present at the recent unveiling of the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. I don’t understand German very well (only a basic level) so must spend time translating everything written.

        If I had seen this image, I probably would have worded my post differently. I do support the basic idea of her art – since many people don’t understand the realities in Europe, especially in countries such as Hungary. Her art forces you to confront that reality. I also don’t agree with the way she was attacked on Facebook regarding her artwork and not given even a moment to defend herself.

        However, when she is using Roma and Sinte themselves and calling them Nazis, I DO have a problem with it. My family did lose relatives in the Porrajmos (Holocaust)… many, many members. I do not know the total number, since my grandmother and my father were reluctant always to talk about it – changing the subject instead. I would, as you rightly assume, be very upset if Marika chose to make a picture using an image of my father calling him a Nazi – especially since he lost so many family members in the Porrajmos.

        In short, my post now does seem in error and I will re-evaluate it and change it. While I do agree with the basic attempt of her art to be shocking and to illuminate the treatment of Roma in Europe, I cannot stand behind someone who makes these kinds of statements against people such as your father.

        • Joschi

          THX Qristina for your detailed comment.

          Art is an integral part in my life. I and my cousin conduct an art gallery in Mannheim. We deal with impressionism, expressionism and also modern art.

          My father is a political figure and I do accept it of course if people criticize him. Everyone can say his opinion. I don’t sentence the art. I know that art is not about spreading information, it is about making people think. Because art is not used to portray facts or information, it has no truth value.

          Art is judged on an emotional level. People experience a piece of art and decide whether or not it has value for them. When art mocks faith, people think about their faith and decide whether the art makes a valid point to them or does not.

          I cannot forbid her art. it belongs to the people if this kind of art has a lasting. I hope people take the right decision.

          I bachtelo drom tuki … but baxt un sastepen ano newo bersch!

  8. my related were also killed in the concentration camp.
    and my graphics are never without context.

  9. Jasmina Tumbas

    I think one of the issues that is being ignored in this discussion about the image Marika produced is the very fact that she critiques Romani Rose’s acceptance of the Commander’s Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit awarded by Viktor Orbán and his concomitant complicity with the Hungarian government, which we all know has been, and still is, extremely racist and harmful to the Roma population. This work does not label Rose a “Nazi” without context – this is an important part of this work. It “provokes” and holds Rose responsible for this complicity, despite – or especially because of – his tragic family history and his previous engagement with social justice. To accept this nationalist award by Hungary, the Commander’s Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit no less, is seen by many as a betrayal and a complicity that can and does have terrible consequences. This kind of art, by means of provocation, shows the political reality/future this kind of complicity can bring, and in no way negates the catastrophic history Rose’s family had to endure, and still does. Marika, whose relatives were also murdered during the holocaust, asks for solidarity and courage, for standing up to the Hungarian government; accepting that award seems absurd and horrific given the current political situation (and Rose’s family history pointed out above). Moreover, this past October the Hungarian government site published Rose’s support of Hungary: “Romani Rose noted that the Hungarian government had in its Roma inclusion strategy, adopted during the 2011 EU presidency, advocated the “long-existing demand” that the Sinti and Roma minorities should be recognised as members of the nation. The Hungarian government’s initiative has brought a break-through in the status of these communities, urging EU member states to integrate their minorities and guarantee equal rights to them, Romani Rose said. The government of Viktor Orban has launched projects aimed at the integration of the Roma, for instance in education, he added. Some of the Hungarian government’s policies may be rightly criticised but its Roma policy shows a positive and progressive approach, he said.”

    • Qristina

      Excellent commentary, thank you. This whole piece has brought me to the middle of a battle I did not know was already raging – and I am not sure my feelings on it any longer. I agree that the acceptance of the Hungarian award can easily be seen as a betrayal – however, I’m not sure labeling him a Nazi is correct. I think his statement of support for Hungary’s Roma policy is incredibly dangerous and seems in direct denial of the situation most Roma must face living in Hungary. It is worrying that as a Roma spokesperson, he cannot see the reality in Hungary.

      • Joschi

        Is that your opinion Qristina? You believe he can not see the realty in hungary? You are not “sure” labling him a Nazi is correct? I’ve told you a lot of my family. I think it’s “obviously wrong” to call my father a nazi. Without a doubt!

        • Qristina

          I should have been clear: I think it was wrong for Marika to imply your father was a Nazi.
          I think that I wrote the original post without knowing all the facts. I think many don’t know the facts of politics or life in Hungary.

          I don’t think all of Marika’s art is bad – I think it forces people to think about a lot of things and discuss them to find the truth – after all, I think many reading these replies have learned a lot already.

          I also think that I cannot get my point across so it can be understood.

  10. my last comment: i have not called rose as a nazi!!!
    the award with the swastika stands for hungary.

  11. and here I would add, that it is “obviously wrong” to support Hungary politically and state that it has Hungary’s “Roma policy shows a positive and progressive approach.” I understand the defensive nature of rejecting this violent and difficult work by Marika Schmiedt (i.e. defending your father, Joschi), but what do you have to say about the actual criticism Marika brought against him? Don’t you think it is also dangerous to “mute” these accusations on the basis of his background (and family history), instead of looking at the naked facts of this dangerous support of Hungary? It troubles me that this dialogue is being “silenced” because the graphic work is so offensive. What about the offenses Rose brought with his support of Hungary??? Just consider what is happening in Gyöngyöspata ( Marika is an artist and activist who points to these dangerous developments in her own, brutal, provocative way, which may cloud some people’s vision of the validity of the work, but the fact remains that these things ARE happening, and that Rose is a male public figure who has the power to “change” things, or at least, lay bare the atrocities that are being committed, instead of publicly “defending” Hungary. For someone like Marika, who has made a number of films/works about the Holocaust and its survivors, this must be adding salt to the wound, an apparent complicity that was so common during the Nazi period. And now we ask: “how could people be so complicit back then? How could the Nazis gain so much power? Why didn’t anyone SAY or DO something?” One of the many answers also lies in the fact that people were/are AFRAID to voice their opinions of resistance, that they tried/try to ignore the horrific reality of even the smallest support for such governments. Marika is not afraid, and she pays a big price for this, including offending many people in the Roma community. However, the cross dangling on Rose’s chest does not MEAN he IS a Nazi. Instead, Marika points to the fact that his acceptance of the Hungarian cross symbolically aligns him with the far right in Hungary, which, again we all know, has roots in the Arrow Cross (Hungary’s own Nazi party during WWII). It is something HE decided to wear (metaphorically). Her work is a REACTION to his actions, nothing more. And he, and his whole family, however painful this may be, have to live with these accusations, as people like Marika have to live with his offensive actions (and their public defenses)…

  12. and I have one more addition to my comment, which addresses the question of art. It is NOT art’s duty to be subtle, nuanced, and forgiving. When we look at expressionism, and MODERN art in general, the intersection of politics and art could not be more apparent. There is a reason why so many of the expressionists and modern artists were deemed outrageous and dangerous to the ruling regime(s), and many of them ended up in the 1937 Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition in Munich. Marika’s work goes hand in hand with with artists like John Heartfield and Georg Grosz, both of whom were in trouble with the authorities because of the provocative nature of their works. One must only think of the first DADA fair in 1920, when John Heartfield and Rudolf Schlichter’s “Prussian Archangel” (, a pig-headed military officer dangling from the ceiling, resulted in the artists being charged with “defaming” the German army. “Defaming” is one critical aspect of this kind of POLITICAL ART. It is interesting to note here, however, that Heartfield’s work was NOT in the degenerate art show, as it was “immune” to “the strategies by which the Nazis stripped “degenerate”artworks of their aura” (Neil Levi, October, 1998, I think this would be true for Marika as well: her work is too direct, to “obviously” critical to be subsumed by another political ideology. It speaks for itself, and she also has to live with the attacks on her personhood and her art. But again, let’s not forget the issues her work raises, instead of riding on the assumption that she “calls” someone a Nazi, or debating if her work is ART. The bigger issues here, as I noted above, are the questions of civil courage and political consciousness her work provokes.


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