Skulu Mari;
Emerging Artist Depicts Reality of Roma life
The history of the Roma peoples is difficult and painful to recount. For centuries they have suffered severe persecution, particularly in Europe. Even before the Christian Witch Craze during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, the Roma were brutalized; during the Holocaust and before, the Roma peoples were the victims of attempted genocide.

Sadly, racist hatred and attacks directed at the Roma within Eastern Europe have intensified of late. They are significantly discriminated against in terms of employment, social services including access to basic education and do not receive adequate health care.

The Roma are prime targets of Neo-Nazis and Skinheads and Roma women have their own particular issues to deal with, such as forced involuntary sterilisation. Governments in the E.U. have done little to guarantee them fundamental human rights, although on May 1, 2004, when ten countries, joined the European Union, some four million Roma became citizens of the EU, with the right to live and work throughout.

Skulu Mari, a Roma woman from Hungary, has taken her collective and personal history in hand and is creating unique works of art to make people aware of the Roma and their struggles.  Born in Budapest, she arrived in Toronto five years ago. Last year, after connecting with Lynn Hutchinson, a member of the Roma Community Centre, Mari participated in Lynn’s workshop for Roma through Red Tree Artists’ Collective and the Roma Community Centre, a not-for-profit community-based organization that serves the interests of Canadian and newly arrived Roma. The workshops were housed at CultureLink in Parkdale.

Ms. Hutchinson, the Artistic Director of Loki Gili (Song of sorrow, Song of Hope), a pan- Roma event featuring Roma culture, held earlier in April and an artist and activist of note, asked the women in the group to paint Roma life ‘before and now’. “I forgot I didn’t know how to draw and right away, I stared to draw everything!” Mari exclaimed enthusiastically.

She began with subjects dear to her, paintings of home and her very musical family. In one piece she portrays hopeful young lovers in a poppy field. Poppies are a seminal symbol of the Roma. “If the poppies die, the Roma die!” Mari emphatically stated. The famous Caravans depicted in the painting shown here are symbolic of “…the Roma peoples, searching always the world, for a home...” She has also painted, a menacing skinhead verbally bashing a Romani woman. Mari’s painting has blossomed in the last eight months.

“I’m sure that God wanted Lynn to start the artist’s project at CultureLink.” Mari said, “I have to thank her because she got me started painting.“ Lynn remarked of Mari, “Maria is an intuitive artist. She has an innate sense of colour, composition and design, which emerge spontaneously in her rapid-fire paintings. They are passionate outpourings from the soul. I believe she is a visionary. Watching her paint, I was struck by the intensity, immediacy and physicality she brought to the process.”

Skulu Mari has been an activist in other ways regarding drawing attention to the Tsigani plight. She has written upward of thirty letter-petitions to various International bodies such as The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, Pope John Paul II, The Hague, and others. Her political motivation, only to have all Roma recognized as persecuted peoples in need of international protection.

Rather than her expression healing her early wounds, Skulu Mari says sadly, “When I painting, I crying inside, I remembering (the) “You Gypsy; You Gypsy!” slurs of childhood, referring to the pejorative term used to debase the Roma, mistakenly identifying the place of their origins as Egypt rather than the State of Rajasthan, in North West India.

”Roma people like dogs in this world, always flying (traveling) in packs and always screaming (barking).” Skulu Mari wants people to recognize that Roma peoples are human beings, just like everyone else. She insists she has no personal motivation to paint. “I don’t want be famous, I paint for my people.“
I would like to Thank Julia Csanyi and Sue Fazekas for translating Mari so wonderfully and Lynn Hutchinson for her guidance.