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Romany family, Bucharest, Romania, ©John Cole

Searching For Kushti

Searching For Kushti is a exhibition of photographs by Hungarian Roma photographer, Béla Váradi and New Traveller, Jules Earl, who have been investigating how their own wider communities continue to preserve identity, culture and community, writes HOT reporter/photographer, John Cole.

‘Kushti’ (or cushty), a Romany term for something good, has become a part of everyday English along with many other Romany words such as ‘pal’, ‘wonga’, ‘gibberish’ and ‘lollipop’.

The exhibition is part of “A Town Explores A Book 2022’, celebrating 50 years since Rumer Godden’s young adult novel, The Diddakoi, which tells the story of a half-gypsy girl’s struggle to maintain her travelling culture following the death of her wagon dwelling guardian. Since the novel was published, the demarcation between the nomadic and the settled is less clear than ever. Many Roma no longer travel but guard their traditions. Many New Travellers are second or third generation and were born on the road.

My involvement with Searching for Kushti came about by wonderful chance. At the opening of our group exhibition 14 Months of Solitude, I was chatting with Alex Brattell and Gail Borrow about ‘A Town Explores a Book’ and mentioned that I had photographed the Romanian gypsy community in the early 1990’s. From that conversation, I was invited by Gail to work with Alex in organising an exhibition of photography by Jules and Bela.

Young Romany girl with her grannie, Bucharest, 1990 ©John Cole

Photographing the Romanian gypsy community for the Sunday Correspondent magazine in May 1990 was one of the most enjoyable photo assignments I’ve ever had. The brief from the Correspondent was to document the plight of Romania’s gypsy population after the Romanian Revolution, which led to the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu’s communist government and the emergence of Romania as a democratic and free society.

The only downside to the assignment – and a real eye opener for this slightly naïve American – was the aggressively racist reaction of my Romanian translator, Razvan. His palatable dislike – at times open hatred – of the Romany community was upsetting, to say the least. Eventually, I let him go and hired a young student, Andre, whose command of English was vague at best. But with ample sign language and endless laughter, we managed surprisingly well.

Gypsy Music Festival, Bucharest, 1990 ©John Cole

I concentrated most of my photography in and around the capital Bucharest, visiting a wide variety of Romany families. I spent a day at a tented community just outside Bucharest, where the families had decided to use the brick and mortar houses the new government had given them to house their cattle, while they happily remained in their tents. I travelled for half a day on a horse-drawn carriage, taking photos of the family aboard.

I photographed a wonderfully chaotic Roma wedding, along with several joyously exuberant Romany music and dance festivals. And I spent a day with a local Romany politician, out canvassing for votes in Romania’s first democratic elections. But mostly I photographed Romany families working hard to maintain their customary ways of life during Romania’s turbulent political changes.

‘Searching for Kushti’ is an important exhibition that addresses often-overlooked issues within our society. Jules and Bela have created their own empathetic images of the British Romany and Travellers communities, images that resonate with the time I spent in Romania. It is an exhibition not to be missed.

Searching For Kushti: 50 Years of The Diddakoi

Béla Váradi & Jules Earl

Electro Studios Project Space, Seaside Rd, St Leonards on Sea, TN38 0AL.

2-18 April 2022, Thursday to Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday, 18 April

Gallery open from 12 to 5pm.

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Posted 17:18 Friday, Mar 25, 2022 In: Photography

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