Anca Mihulet, Contemporary Arts Curator of The Contemporary Gallery at The Brukenthal National Museum invited American artist Ellen Rothenberg and Romanian artist Delia Popa to participate in a cultural exchange with marginalized communities in the county of Sibiu in Transylvania. The ASTRA National Museum Complex, the largest ethnographic museum in Romania, became an important institutional partner with the participation of anthropologist Oana Burcea. Additional support for the project came from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Chelen Amenca, (Dance with us) provided a chance to work in an unusual collaborative structure of artists, curator, and anthropologist. We partnered with the extended Clopotar family of the Cotorari, Roma who hosted us for the cultural exchange workshop. We designed three projects for the different age groups: a mapping project for the children, a textile/ text project for the teenagers, and an oral history workshop for the mothers centered on traditional Cotorari customs for women.
The challenges of working in a rural village with the vast differences in language and culture were considerable. Despite these differences we established areas of shared commonality and correspondences, and it was from these moments that the work took form. As women professionals working closely with Roma women and girls the project developed a distinct feminist aspect and reflects on questions of feminine agency and possibility.
Chelen Amenca challenges the dominant view of traditional Roma communities as outsiders, demonstrating that they are co-creators of their environment, and of the larger society. The project makes clear that significant connections can be made with these communities, and their inclusion in the larger social and cultural conversation is essential to Romania and the international community.