Manu Paun works with Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre in Dublin, Ireland as part of their Roma projects. Manu was recently involved in One People: Many Lives, a Roma photography exhibition challenging stereotypes against the Roma in Ireland. Below, he tells the story of the exhibition and how it came about.
One of my colleagues at Pavee Point, Gabi, asked me to take part in an exhibition about Roma in Ireland and I decided to go along with my friend and mother to take part. I wanted to be part of the exhibition because I am not afraid to show people who I am and what I do and where I come from.
Our first meeting about the exhibition was to discuss how it should be made and what it should look like. There was a diverse range of people at the meeting, men and women, young and old, almost twenty of us in total. We talked about the stereotypes Roma people face in Ireland and internationally. We talked about the fact that just because we are Roma we automatically face harsh stereotypes and endless racism.
Women spoke at how often people “saw the dress” and not the person. They are often not allowed to enter certain shops and are openly discriminated against in the streets.
People have the astonishing mindset that just because we are Roma, we are automatically beggars, thieves and mafia, scamming the government. People look at us in disgust. We wanted the exhibition to challenge these myths.
There are Roma working in Ireland as butchers, chefs, musicians, drivers and in countless other professions. There are Roma who want to be part of the national police force, An Garda Siochana.
Parents spoke about wanting their children to go to school, or to go out, without having the fear that they will be harassed, bullied, and stereotyped. Racism hurts.
Our group talked about what the exhibition would look like. We wanted positive images of our community and we decided we should have a mixture of photos along with quotes. Planning the exhibition was amazing because we had ownership of the project and could decide what it would look like. The photos were taken by James Fraher in Pavee Point. People really enjoyed being photographed in a professional way. We also wrote down more information about ourselves, our lives and personal experiences. We were all given copies of the images and when other friends and family saw these photos they also wanted to be involved.
The ‘One People, Many Lives’ exhibition gives a real picture of the lives of Roma people. It is very important to me because I want to show people that even though I am Roma, yes I work, yes I had an education. We know what image we want people to see of us: that we are humans, that we are equal. Like everyone else we wanted an education for ourselves and for our children, we want to work and see our children be someone in their lives. We don’t want to be stereotyped, bullied and marginalised any more.
The photo exhibition was a tremendous and enjoyable experience and I think it will have a positive impact on Roma in Ireland. Hopefully we will change the mindset that people have about Roma. I would like Roma and Irish people to get to know each other better, in school, in work and socially. The important thing is that we all pump the same colour blood through our veins and we all breathe air. I don’t believe in judging a book by its cover.