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Houdek's portraits of Roma authors open in Prague

Writer Emil Cina (Foto: Lukáš Houdek) During the opening of "Lačho lav sar maro / Dobré slov je jako chleba" ("Good Words Are Like Bread"), an exhibition of photographs of Roma authors taken by Lukáš Houdek, we heard Petr, a sculptor and habitué of Prague's Jericho café, make the following confession after a few glasses of red wine: "I stole it, or rather, I borrowed it. I wanted to return it today, but I haven't finished it yet."

He was talking about a bound notebook of dispatches, poems, and stories by the 15 Roma authors whose photographic portraits were hanging in the Jericho. The photographer had made a small collection of their works available for those who wanted to read more than "just" the quotations from their works posted beneath their portraits.

Thanks primarily to the founder of Roma studies in the Czech Republic, the late Milena Hübschmannová, dozens of literary works by Roma authors have been published since 1989. These have included Erika Oláhová's short horror stories, Emil Cina's narrative works, and an anthology of prose by Roma authors from the Czech Republic, Čalo voďi/Sytá duše ("A Full Soul"), published by the Museum of Roma Culture five years ago.

The photographs of the authors were taken as part of a project run by the ROMEA civic association, "Šukar laviben le Romendar/Krásná slova Romů" ("Beautiful Roma Words"). The project involved visiting Roma authors from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, photographing them, and publishing vignettes about them and excerpts from their work on the website.

Attracting the uninitiated

Roma studies scholar Karolína Ryvolová noted in her opening remarks that there are two ways to view Roma literature in the Czech context. The first way, the "intellectual/Roma studies" approach, is to be enthusiastic and perpetually stunned at how much literature is being published today. The second way, the "prevailing/uninitiated" approach, is to be completely unaware that something like Roma literature even exists.

"Events like today's exhibition bring these two diametrically opposed points of view together," Ryvolová concluded. The first glasses of wine then began to ring throughout the café and people began nibbling at the loaves of bread on the tables, a reminder not only of the title of the exhibition, but also of the old Roma saying.

Three of the authors whose portraits were on display read from their works: The essayist Jana Hejkrlíková, the young poet Renáta Berkyová, and that story-teller with such a talent for invention, Emil Cina. The other authors contributing to the buzz in the café were at least symbolically present in Houdek's black and white photos.

You can see the exhibition Lačho lav sar maro/Dobré slov je jako chleba (Good Words Are Like Bread) in Café Jericho (Opatovická 26, Prague 1) until 15 May.

Translated by Gwendolyn Albert

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