INTERVIEW – Art Aktivista uses colors to fight Roma segregation

- News

They have “the largest canvas and the widest palette of colors”, “they paint the pavement, public spaces and have a lot of fun”. These are some of the words that Romani children from Sečovce (Slovakia) have used to describe Art Aktivista – an NGO that empowers children in segregated communities by using art. The REYN Coordinator, Stanislav Daniel has interviewed two team members Tomáš Rafa and Jana Pohanková.

How does an artist come to the idea of redesigning public spaces in Roma communities?

“At the beginning I wanted bring the attention on a wall that was built in Michalovce (Slovakia) to segregate Roma people” – says Art Aktivista founder Tomáš Rafa. “According to the town representatives it was a “sport wall” not a segregating wall. Back then, as a student of the Academy of Arts, I decided to go and play football there. There is a video recording of me playing with children that I posted on YouTube. Later, I decided to fund Art Aktivista to continue working with children, as we see in them a lot of potential and a huge dose of creativity that we are keen to develop further.”

Your creative workshops are called art therapy. Are you healing the relationships between communities?

“Our artistic workshops are mostly aimed on the creative processes and spontaneous interactions with children. The course of action is coordinated with a social worker and an art therapist. Art therapy is one of the tools we use in our work with children. In addition, there is a social aspect: we put stress on building relationships and mutual trust. By encouraging their artistic vibes, we nurture the children’s creative potential and self-realization.”


Should we assume that painting is a road to something else?

“We believe that this helps in releasing some tensions and through the colors, they speak about the world they live in. These children lead their daily fight against social exclusion and poverty. We learn about things they might normally be ashamed to talk about. The non-verbal communication brings a new energy in the few days of happenings.”

You have been going to the village of Sečovce for several years now.

Photo by Tomáš Rafa

“Since 2012, we have been organizing painting workshops near segregating walls in several places Ostrovany, Veľká Ida and Sečovce. In the latter, we painted the wall that bounded the settlement in the neighborhood of Habeš.
The children were keen to participate and were very active. It was also interesting for us to spend a week there. We realized what it means to live in a settlement. After that, we came back to Sečovce every year. We kept fundraising for the project and this year, we have come with the financial support of the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic. Among other things, we created painting workshops and helped the children to revitalize the shared spaces of the flats.”

What changes do you see among the youngest children as a result of your activities?

“We think they are more courageous and more communicative. It happened that some pre-teenage children were creating conflicts but we saw those children growing and collaborating much better in the following years.”

Isolation plays a big role in the status of the local Roma community. Do you get to talk to the local non-Roma?

“We managed to organize a public exhibition from one of the painting workshops in the nearby town Trebišov. Children from the settlement came, too. They were very happy to see that the people from the town appreciated their work.

In our projects we highlight some key matters: support to children and their development, building mutual relationships, getting to know the specifics of each community and creating spaces for the self-realization of children and for the whole community. But most importantly we stress out that cooperation is the way to go.”

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