Małgorzata Mirga-Tas (geboren am 16. April 1978 in Zakopane, Polen) ist eine bildende Künstlerin. Die Bergitka-Romni, die in einer Roma-Siedlung in Czarna Góra in der polnischen Region Spisz aufwuchs, wo sie heute noch lebt und arbeitet, schafft hauptsächlich Skulpturen aus Karton. Die Künstlerin setzt sich als Aktivistin für Roma-Communitys ein und engagiert sich in verschiedenen sozialen und künstlerischen Projekten gegen gesellschaftliche Ausgrenzung, rassistische Diskriminierung und Fremdenfeindlichkeit. Hier im Bild am 30.06.22 in Berlin, Kreuzberg im Tagesspiegel-Interview mit Judith Langowski.

Where Małgorzata Mirga-Tas comes from, a stream flows just a few steps from her house. “The water is so close,” says the artist, pointing a few meters further to Oranienplatz to show the distance. Here in Kreuzberg only the Landwehr Canal flows and does not invite you to refresh yourself on this hot summer day.

Mirga-Tas has her thick black hair pinned up and is wearing a brightly printed, airy dress. The pattern is reminiscent of the colorful patchworks with motifs from the past and present of the Roma, which make Mirga-Tas one of the most important Eastern European artists of the moment. She is also a Roma, her family belongs to the Bergitka Roma.

She still lives in Czarna Góra in southern Poland, surrounded by forests and snow-capped peaks, with her husband and sons, aunts and uncles, cousins. The life of the Roma in this region inspires her work, reflected in the everyday scenes on the patchworks or in her reappraisal of the Porajmos, the genocide of the Roma in World War II.

In 2004 Małgorzata Mirga-Tags graduated from the Art Academy in Kraków, in the following years she exhibited in various Polish and European galleries. In recent years, her success curve has increased steeply. In 2020 she took part in the Berlin Biennale, in the same year she was awarded the prestigious “Passport Polityki” prize as the best visual artist in Poland.

This year she is performing in the Polish pavilion in Venice, as the first Roma artist to exhibit in a national biennial pavilion in 127 years. With her space-filling textile fresco, the “New York Times” chose Mirga-Tas as one of the two best artists in the show. The Documenta also shows works by her, somewhat smaller in format, at Kassel’s Fridericianum.

Next January, a large solo exhibition on the work of the 44-year-old will open in Gothenburg’s “Konsthall”: patchwork works, sculptures, paintings. Everything needs to be prepared. At the same time, the move to Berlin is pending. Mirga-Tas will be in the capital on a DAAD scholarship from August. Her husband, Marcin Tas, and their sons accompany her. A studio, an apartment for the whole family: Mirga-Tas is happy about the freedom that the scholarship offers her. And via the network with other artists of Polish or Roma origin that she already has in Berlin.

When Małgorzata Mirga-Tas was awarded the contract for the Polish pavilion in the Giardini, she had five months to realize her idea. In a vacant tourist hotel in Czarna Góra, she and her team spread out mountains of scraps of fabric and old clothing. Mirga-Tas drew and planned. Old t-shirts and bed sheets, lace, felt material and scraps of fabric were cut up and sewn back together until the huge pieces of fresco eventually fit together.

For her patchworks, Mirga-Tas works with three seamstresses who come from her environment. One of them is her aunt. “I trust them completely,” says Mirga-Tas. “We are the best team.” It is important to her to name the people who support her in the artistic process. They also accompanied her to Venice.

Inspired by a Renaissance palace in Ferrara, Italy, the Palazzo Schifanoia, Mirga-Tas completely lined the rectangular interior of the pavilion with her fabric art. The frescoes in three panels are reminiscent of the palazzo in color and in many details, such as the sewn white columns in the corners. But the story the frescoes tell is that of Mirga-Tas and the European Roma. When her family visited the artwork, they recognized themselves in the scenes. “You feel at home,” says the artist.

On the bottom strip she shows scenes from her home village of Czarna Góra. A sleepy winter landscape, her grandmother in bed with a crocheted blanket. Men playing cards, women sewing – including a self-portrait. In the middle, the astrological year passes by on twelve fields, framed by people who are important to Mirga-Tas’ life and work: especially women from the Roma community, artists or activists like her. For the top part of the fresco, Mirga-Tas was inspired by a cycle of etchings from the 17th century, the “Bohémiens en marche” by the Lorraine artist Jacques Callot. Only without reproducing the negative stereotypes that have been attributed to the Roma for centuries.

In the pavilion in Venice you can lose yourself in the loving details and fall into one of the velvet armchairs, overwhelmed again and again by the size of the total work of art. Curators Joana Warsza and Wojciech Szymański are proud that Małgorzata Mirga-Tas won the national competition. “We want to break out of the discourse about national pavilions,” says Warsza.

Decades of work by Mirga-Tas and other Roma artists have gone into bringing the stories of the Roma community to the big stages of international art. Mirga-Tas reports at the meeting in Berlin that she was not taken seriously for a long time and was often placed in the “exotic, ethnographic corner”. “It used to be difficult for me to connect with professional galleries,” she says.

On her way to success, friends and employees helped her, she emphasizes that again and again. One of them is the art historian Tímea Junghaus, depicted next to the zodiac sign Libra on the fresco. The founding director of the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture is a pioneer herself: she was the first Roma in Hungary to obtain a degree in art history. As early as 2007 she curated the first “Roma Pavilion” in Venice – albeit as a side event, because as a people without their own state, the Roma are denied a national pavilion. Junghaus has been challenging this dogma at the Biennale ever since.

The recognition of Mirga-Tas’ work not only sheds light on Roma art. Sewing, too, which in many places is still discredited as female handwork, is upgraded to a high art. Her first large-scale patchwork work was created in 2016, with her colorful textile works she covered the huts of a Roma settlement on the edge of an open-air museum. There too, in the middle of the forest, their own stories and art narratives meet the classic ethnological discourses of the European art elite.

But she also uses patchworks in her art workshops with Roma children, which she has been organizing since her student days, to bring them closer to the stories of Holocaust survivors, for example. It is important to her, she says, to show Roma children that education can enable them to do many things and open many doors.

Mamgorzata Mirga-Tas works with donated fabrics and second-hand clothing. The fabrics give the artworks additional meaning, power. In addition to the life and history of the Roma, they also tell the story of the modern textile industry; how clothes are made and transported around the world. Curator Joana Warsza recalls the concept of “afterlife” that the art historian Aby Warburg also identified in the 19th-century Palazzo Schifanoia. There are two kinds of “afterlives” in Mirga-Tas’ work, “on the one hand, symbolically, because it enters the culture of the Roma into the art-historical and contemporary canon. And on the other hand, the fabrics have an ‘afterlife’ as each piece has had a journey, like the Roma themselves.”

As an artist as well as an activist, Mirga-Tas works to ensure that the artistic work of the Roma is recognized. She registers that there are more and more exhibitions with and about Roma, also in Poland. Nevertheless, far too few artists are visible. She hopes it will be easier for the next generation. Also because of herself, as an example and role model for the younger Roma around her.