These works use painted, etched and gilded glass to produce illuminated mirrored surfaces, or looking glasses. Images appear behind the glass but in front of the mirrored background, locating the subject in a liminal or in-between space – a space which the Gypsy continues to inhabit both physically and symbolically. The somewhat obscured nature of the gilded reflection allows the viewer to inhabit the landscape of the work whilst at the same time evading true likeness and recognition.
These looking glasses seek to highlight an ambiguity and confusion in the way that Gypsies are seen – a state of obscured likeness and masked visibility that has been internalised by the Gypsy over time, making it difficult for Gypsies to fully see themselves in the world. This difficulty in visualising the self has left popular stereotyped images relatively unchallenged, the legacy of which is a symbolic Gypsy that is ever present but never truly seen. These works are intended as a meditation upon identity and dislocation.
In earlier abstract works I have examined questions of identity and difference through the vehicle of process painting. These abstract pieces explore boundary formation as a means of protection and segregation. Concerns regarding the perceived threat of difference and the consequent construction of boundaries refer in part to my experience of growing up in my Romani community in Kent.
The works explore boundary patterning formed by conflicting identities and are informed by the ongoing negotiations between this enclosed group and the adjacent non-Romani community.
The non-figuration of these earlier works is partly a response to the absence of the human figure in Gypsy artifact decoration. An example of this can be seen in the painted caravan, where artwork consists mainly of painted scrollwork and motifs in contrasting colours set apart by strong outlining. As well as the more obvious decorative function served by this means of ornamentation, I see the use of strong outlining in Gypsy paintwork as an attempt to maintain clear boundary definition between diverse elements whilst at the same time seeking compositional harmony – a concern echoed in the Romani peoples’ desire to preserve their cultural identity from the perceived threat of assimilation.
Daniel Baker | photo: Karl Grady