The artworks that Cas Holmes and Dan Turner have produced for their Gypsy Maker 4 exhibitions have drawn together a number of elements that play important roles within Gypsy, Roma and Traveller visual culture. Emphases include depictions of flora, innovative use textiles, imaginative exploration of the photographic image, examinations of landscape and geographies—and related questions regarding the transcendence of cultural and territorial boundaries. In relation to the latter, an understanding of the implications of movement and mobility has influenced many of the artworks and their modes of manufacture. Although the majority of Romani people are no longer itinerant, the influence of a common nomadic past seems to remain significant. An emphasis on connections to landscapes and the cycles of movement precipitated by economic imperatives, such as the seasonality of agricultural labour, continue to inform Gypsy, Roma and Traveller histories and the stories that define our communities and can be seen to inform many of the works in the show.
Key elements from the fields of traditional domestic artistic practice, rural craft and contemporary art practice have been brought together by both artists to help us think through the different ways that we can encounter objects and how these ways can influence our understanding of artefacts and the meanings that they carry. Looking at objects in new ways can highlight particular preoccupations and modes of making and in turn help us see more clearly the elements that narrate the experience and concerns of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities both in the UK and internationally.
Many of the artworks have brought our attention to important issues relating to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller innovation. These include a clear and longstanding focus on recycling and its implications for conserving the environment and an understanding of the healing potential of common plants for both physical and spiritual well being. The ways in which Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities have historically inhabited the world can be seen as distinctly forward thinking in terms of living lightly on the land through values which underpin a connectedness to place, a shared sense of concern for the spaces that we occupy, and an awareness of our impact upon the world around us.
The central importance of family within Gypsy, Roma and Traveller life is a significant factor throughout the exhibition and highlights a communal emphasis which is expressed as a collective sense of community action and responsibility. It is no surprise then that domestic artistic practice underpins many of the artworks on display in the show. In encountering these objects we experience their related practices from a fresh perspective. This in turn makes room for wider and more unexpected associations which lift our understanding from the usual range of reference so allowing us to make new connections through the artworks and the questions that they generate—not only in relation to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller culture but also to the wider world. Dr Daniel Baker