THE SLOVAK National Museum is showing an exhibition called Half a Century of the Life of Roma in Photographs by Eva Davidová until July 31. Davidová, aged 80, is a Czech historian, ethnographer and photographer specialising in the Roma community and she particularly captured in her photographs the period around 1958 when many nomadic or semi-nomadic Roma from Romania, Moldavia and Wallachia were forced to settle down under various laws enacted by the communist regime.
Davidová took photos of Roma at various places in the former Czechoslovakia from 1952 to the end of the 1970s so her works reflect the last Roma wagons and caravans as well as the poor, dilapidated houses to which they were moved – though there are some proud village buildings as well. Many of the photos focus on children but there are also portraits of older people and one can feel that they were important and respected members of the community. Some works depict musicians and dancers and others show Roma repairing their homes, collecting wood, and preparing the soil.
The legends for the photographs only state the year and the place where they were taken so English is not really necessary. Poster boards at the beginning of exhibition and a 15-minute documentary describing the work and history of Davidová are only in Slovak but an English-speaking visitor can easily capture the core of the exhibition as the photos are made with much sensitivity and empathy and tell tales by themselves, representing a valuable historical testimony to the lives of Roma during this period.
Davidová is a member of the International Romani Union and the Gypsy Lore Society and has also made audio recordings of traditional Roma folklore. Her photo series are neither strictly scientific nor particularly artistic but rather document the social and cultural changes of Roma residents throughout the history of communist Czechoslovakia.