Dr Daniel Baker GRT in Higher Education
Event Date: 18th Jun Time: 12.00am Location: Online exhibition
Picture copyright of Chris Gloag for Open Society Foundations.
Bucks New University is delighted to host this specially-curated exhibition by well-respected Romani Gypsy artist and theorist Dr Daniel Baker to mark Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month (GRTHM).
Dr Baker, born in Kent, holds a PhD on the subject of Gypsy aesthetics from the Royal College of Art, London. Baker curated FUTUROMA at the 58th International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 2019. He acted as exhibitor and adviser to the first and second Roma Pavilions; “Paradise Lost” and “Call the Witness” at the 52nd and 54th Venice Biennales respectively.
Baker’s art and writing examines the role of art in the enactment of social agency through an eclectic practice that interrogates contemporary art discourse and its social implications via the reconfiguration of elements of the Gypsy aesthetic. His work can be found in collections worldwide. Baker currently lives and works in London.
Copse, 2005. Enamel on reclaimed wood, size variable. © Daniel Baker
The wooden signs that make up the artwork ‘Copse’ are made from the remnants of broken fences that I came across whilst passing an abandoned Traveller site to the East of London in 2006, the result of eviction,. The wooden material of the signs, once used to mark the space around individual caravans thereby delineating domestic living space, has been reformulated to signal wider and more sinister demarcations of territory and restrictions to mobility. Through their materiality the signs act as emblems of the ubiquitous commodification of geographies whilst at the same time retaining their roots in the domestic realm. There are seven signs in the installation. Their proclamations read; No Travellers, No Trespassing, No Admittance, No Access, No Entry, Keep Out, Private.
Wish You Were Here, 2006. Digital image, size variable. © Daniel Baker
This work is from a series of photographs that I took of an abandoned Traveller site to the East of London in 2006, some remnants from which also provided the material for my wooden sign installation titled Copse. The area contained a number of caravans which had been stripped of their outer layer of recyclable metal to reveal the wooden structures and the insulation materials beneath. The unsettling landscape gave the impression of a battlefield in the aftermath of conflict – a quiet after the storm. The desolation of the scene contrasted the bright day with its intense blue sky.
Clear Sign, 2006. Perspex, 14 cm x 60 cm. © Daniel Baker
‘Clear Sign’ is a transparent Perspex rectangle with the laser cut words ‘No Travellers’ removed. Its message lays dormant until revealed by glancing light. This work embodies not only the slippery nature of casual racism but also the ever present prejudice that continues to punctuate Roma lives. This work was made in response to a particularly lurid Romaphobic comedy sketch which was broadcast on BBC radio in 2006, which rationalised the necessity for killing Gypsies in the manner of a fox hunt.
Charm series (infant), 2013. Silver leaf and enamel on clear acrylic, 100 cm x 70 cm, © Daniel Baker
The Charm series represents individual elements from the Swarm installation (a clustered collection of key rings) in the form of paintings on mirrored backgrounds. By focusing on a single key ring each of these works elevate the status of that which is usually overlooked (the inexpensive disposable key ring) to that which is carefully observed and looked to for meaning; meanings which often go unobserved in the casual use of the original object.
Emergency Artefact, 2016. Crocheted survival blanket, 50cm diameter. © Daniel Baker
Emergency artefact is crocheted from a single survival blanket, the type used for disaster relief or to conserve the body temperature of accident victims. By employing the specificities of this material (usually intended for use in extreme circumstances) within the seemingly banal realm of domestic hobby craft I intended to emphasise the precarious nature of the safety and comfort that many of us take for granted. This work also draws upon the shiny qualities that underpin the Roma aesthetic to speak of the contingent nature of the Roma experience where safety and stability are continually at risk.
Out Of Order, 2009. Metal leaf on Perspex, 180 cm x 120 cm. © Daniel Baker
My gilded sign works subvert the usual function of signs in order to create a sense of confusion or mistrust about the statements inscribed. These sign works employ the accepted ‘use’ of the monumentalized sign—as a tool to inform and advise and then uses it to question the authority of statements and their origins. The use of text here is employed to articulate the possibilities for misinterpretation within a model whose function would seem to be the conveyance of clarity.
Gold Bird looking glass, 2008. Enamel, silver and gold leaf on glass, 35 cm x 24 cm. © Daniel Baker
This series of paintings combine marks of destruction with traditional ornamental motifs. The layered oppositional qualities of ornament and defacement used within the works can be seen as symbolic of the historic roles that the Gypsy continues to play in the popular imagination—the romantic and the demonised. Questions regarding our understanding of the relationship between vandalism and embellishment raised by the work add to the ambiguity of the object. Through choreographed dialogue, the contrasting tropes within the paintings wrestle to narrate the struggle that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller identities continue to experience. The reflective qualities of the mirrored surface place the viewer within the midst of the action.
Sign Looking Glass, 2005. Silver and gold leaf on glass, 30 cm x 134 cm. © Daniel Baker
My looking glass sign works subvert the convention of the ornamental mirror by inviting and confounding the viewer at the same time. ‘No Travellers’ signs could be seen until relatively recently in UK pubs to dissuade Romanies from entering. Despite legislation to ban such racist signifiers some premises still sidestep the law. A few years ago I saw a cardboard sign in the window of an East London pub stating ‘Travellers by appointment only’—easily removed and destroyed if necessary by its author. My response was to produce a series of ‘No Travellers’ signs which through their attractive ornamentality contrast to the grubbiness of the said artefacts to expose the hypocrisy of furtive prejudice. By monumentalising sentiments these objects render visible the racism that remains embedded in the architecture of the establishment.
Square Knot, 2015. Silver leaf, glitter and enamel of perspex, 50 cm x 50 cm. © Daniel Baker
Square Knot is part of a series made for a project titled Makeshifting: Structures of Mobility. The knots refer to symbols of mobility representing adaptability and invention whilst at the same time the binding of community and collective effort. The Makeshifting project set out to examine the structures that facilitate and, in some instances, inhibit, mobility and asked what we, Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller (GRT) and non-GRT alike, can learn from such phenomena. The project focused on physical migration, or the possibility to move freely without prohibition or prosecution, a subject which remains a pressing issue for GRT groups throughout Europe and increasingly for the wider population.
Store, 2011. Metal leaf and enamel on Perspex, size variable © Daniel Baker
Store is made up of a series of panels that can be reconfigured, grouped, separated, and obscured at will. The resulting collection of panels could be seen as an ensemble of players or a deck of cards ready to be shuffled into winning or losing hands. The mutability of the display enhanced a sense of contingency that I wanted to emphasise throughout the installation. The title of the artwork suggests both the seductive glamour and reflective excitement of the consumer retail experience and at the same time brings to mind the banal utilitarianism of a storage facility. This uncertainty sets the scene for a conflict of expectation which is intended as an exploration of the contingent nature of meaning
This Way (diptych), 2011. Metal leaf and enamel on Perspex, 180 cm x 240 cm © Daniel Baker
The gilding technique that I have developed results in a murky reflection. Here the broken silver presents a misty, stuttered reflection that seems at once both familiar and alien. The sense of interruption is furthered by the by the looming obstacles of text which float at the threshold between here and there keeping us from the union that would make us whole but at the same time maintaining a welcome barrier of protection from the shadowy forms lurking beyond. This reflection makes us work to find our likeness. We struggle to gain focus and surety of our inclusion in the composition as we emerge from behind the broken film of pictures and text.
100 thousand blows, 2015. Multimedia installation, size variable. Photo Nihad Nino Pušija © Daniel Baker
The installation 100 thousand blows takes as its starting point the increasingly frequent series of violent police raids carried out under “Code-Action 100”; a name for police actions supposedly used for tracking down individuals thought to be escaping justice, or items believed to have been obtained by criminal means or used for carrying out criminal acts. The discriminatory invocation of the code for targeting Roma is the latest in a long tradition of violence against Europe’s largest minority and continues a culture of state sanctioned racism that often remains unchallenged. Left to its own devices, institutional violence damages not just those currently targeted but also society at large.
Impression Sunset, 2017. Enamel and silver leaf on Plexiglass, 100cm x 100cm. © Daniel Baker
The title of this work references the painting by Claude Monet, "Impression Sunrise" which signalled the birth of the Impressionist Movement in Europe in the late 19th Century. Here a monochrome graphic image of a bender tent is shown within a brightly symbolic landscape comprised of pivotal art historical motifs including modernist blocks of colour, abstract painterly drips and graffiti spray paint. Bender tents were regularly used as dwellings by Romanies during the Impressionist period and the artist's ancestors are recorded as living in such homes on Mitcham Common near London during the 1881 UK census. By embedding the image of a Romani dwelling within an array of key art historical references the work seeks to locate the Roma presence within key moments of societal transformation - not only to affirm our place in the world but also to place us firmly within the historical narratives from which we have been regularly excised. By re-contextualising our past, we create the foundations for reimagining our futures, futures in which we are fully recognised for our participation as valued citizens. This work attempts to relocate Roma within historical narrative in order to better understand our path forward.
Encounter series: Proximity, 2018. Enamel, white gold and gold leaf on plexiglass, © Daniel Baker
The Encounter series takes as its staring point the relationship between viewer and object. In an age when the virtual encounter reigns, the experience of face to face encounter offers the prospect of a reassessment of our relationship with the spaces that we occupy. The place markers featured in the all too physical works are deconstructed to highlight the ways in which digital graphics choreograph our sense of place and connection. The relations between idea and environment—between image and place, are examined within these works to draw attention to wider questions of belonging. By rendering the digital motif in paint within a physical mirrored plane, the virtual symbol of location is reified to bring us face to face not only with the object of our gaze but also with ourselves.