20 SES 11, Art, Self-Study in Drama and Design Criteria to Enhance Socialization
What was the educational and social impact of a family of Roma Gypsy Artists in Residence on a City?
Delaine and Damian Le Bas are UK Roma Gypsy artists with an international reputation, whose work has been exhibited across Europe. Their son Damian James Le Bas is a poet, playwright, journalist and filmmaker. Their PH1 residency in 2014, co-curated by Jackson and Teed, was entitled 'Grace In Thy Sight' and took place on a green known locally as the Eye of York, in front of the city's Courthouse and in the shadow of the medieval Clifford's Tower, scene of the infamous Jewish massacre of 1190.
The Grace In Thy Sight residency was part of a series of socially engaged residencies in the city whose main funder was Arts Council England.
Extraordinarily, the Le Bas family were willing to live permanently on-site for 30 days in a dry trailer and Transit van. Thus their residency became a continual, public performance of Gypsy life, enacting what Zygmunt Bauman describes as the 'all too visible yet unseen' status of the Roma in Europe, whilst simultaneously creating what Huub van Baar describes as 'new spaces for public engagement and indignation and, thus, for novel ways to enact and practice citizenship in present-day Europe'.
In this way the Le Bas family sought to explore perceptions of ‘the outsider’ and ‘otherness,’ migration and belonging, social inclusion and exclusion, with the citizens of York.
Jackson and Teed conceived the notion of the Grace In Thy Sight residency as a means of making contemporary artists accessible to different communities in the city. The artists worked with children and young people, delivering workshops and talks to primary and secondary school pupils as well as university undergraduates in both Fine Art and Education Faculties. They were also shadowed and interviewed by post-graduate student teachers, who were then encouraged to take their own findings forward into the classroom of their future practice.
In terms of 'inclusive education', the authors researched the Le Bas' approach to their school workshops, in which group, collaborative drawing was used as a spring-board to individual conversations about ways of living, sustainability, environmentalism and social inclusion. The collaborative pictures of living/social spaces depicted the children's perceptions of the importance of shelter, security, family and creativity: in other words, they depicted Maslow's hierarchy of needs in terms of Physiology, Safety, Belonging and elements of Self-Actualization.
The artists were also able to engage in conversations with local councillors and officers responsible for implementing local government policy on Roma Gypsy Traveller well-being. This should be seen in the context of a vociferous local backlash against Council proposal to marginally increase provision for Travellers in the city, as well as the wider context of prejudice against Gypsies witnessed Europe-wide.
The Le Bas were able to articulate important facets of Roma Gypsy culture that many in their audience - children, undergraduates, student teachers, councillors, citizens of York, visitors - were ignorant of. In particular, the core message that Gypsies are an ethnic culture which has its own customs and traditions and includes a wide range of diverse people, as does any ethnicity.
The research had an explicit social intent. The authors and the artists understood the semantics of the residency - ie the juxtaposition of a caravan and Transit van on a green space in the city. The semantics were deliberately provocative, in contrast to how a traditional Gypsy wagon and horse would have been read. In addition, the installation of a 'shanty-town' structure alongside brought into the discourse the reality of living conditions for millions of marginalised communities across the world.
Baker, D. and Hlavajova, M. (Eds.) (2012) We Roma: A Critical Reader in Contemporary Art. Utrecht: BAK. Coverly, M. (2006) Psychogeography. London: Oldcastle Books. Foucault, M. (1977 edn) Discipline and Punish. London: Penguin Foucault, M. (2002 edn) The Order of Things. London: Routledge. Freire, P. (1996 edn) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin. Maslow, A. (2011 - Kindle edn) Hierarchy of Needs: A Theory of Human Motivation. Robinson, K. (2009) The Element: How Finding your Passion Changes Everything. London: Penguin. Smart, B. C. and Crofton, H. T. (1875) The Dialect of the English Gypsies. London. Roy, A. (2004) The Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire. London: Flamingo.
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