The Vibrant Color of the “Gypsy Soul”

“What appeals to me about [the Roma music and dance] is that it’s a very positive aspect of the Roma culture,” said Mark Wiedorn, the owner of the photography exhibit titled “Gypsy Soul”. “Unfortunately, a lot of people in this part of the world, not only Czech Republic, but Central Europe, are not really aware of or familiar with, which is a shame.”

Mark Wiedorn, currently teaching Digital Photography, Management and Marketing at AAU, will have a photography exhibition from June 2nd to August 31st at Jerusalem Synagogue titled “Gypsy Soul.” Mark’s lens captures the passionate spirit of Roma music and dance through the vibrant colors of its concerts. The photographer has always shown great interest in the Roma culture.

In 2003, Mark had an exhibition which exposed the miserable life of the Roma community in Prague 22. Mark explained that the people he photographed were Roma-Slovaks without Czech passports. They were stuck in Czech Republic, living in an old brick factory, which had become a trash dump.

“It was quite shocking for me to see in the middle of Europe in 2003-2004 that these people were living like that,” said Mark. “They were basically socially excluded from the rest of the population here.”

Mark, a Fine Art photographer, recalls his first exposure to photography growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana, playing around with polaroid films and admiring black-and-white portraits on the front cover of LIFE magazines. From early childhood, a passion for photography has grown inside Mark.

Despite his great enthusiasm with photography, Mark majored in Banking and Finance in university but never gave up his passion. He graduated from Thunderbird School of Global Management with a M.B.A degree in International Business and Management. Later, he studied Photography and Fine Art at the University of New Mexico and Speos Paris Photographic Institute. Mark came to Prague in 2001 on a workshop with the photography exhibition of Viktor Kolář, a Czech photographer from Ostrava. It was Kolář that inspired Mark to move his life to a different direction from banking and finance to a more creative field that he had always been passionate about: photography.

Mark’s approach to photography is founded in the fundamental creative basics of photography, with an openness to new technology and platforms in creating, manipulating and presenting compelling images.

“Looking through that lens, you look at the world in a different way,” said Mark, describing his way of finding inspiration for his photography projects. Mark usually just walks out on the streets and experiences life with all his senses until something catches his attention.

Mark's vivid photographs about the life of the Roma minority in 2003 have contributed to persuade the local authority in the Prague suburb of Uhrineves to help the families return to normal flats. Now, after 14 years, bearing the same interest in the Roma culture, Mark shifted his photography focus to explore a more positive aspect of the same subject: Roma music and dance.

“The images will be shown to good effect with the Moorish elements of the synagogue that are combined with colorful Art Nouveau patterns and textures, all coming together to create a positive mix of color, warmth, vibrance and spirituality.” (Artist’s Statement)

Mark emphasizes the goal of his upcoming exhibition as to expose a beautiful captivating aspect of the Roma culture, in response to the usual negative depiction of the Roma population often seen in the media. Mark believes that these narratives often reinforce the stereotypical perception of the Roma which dehumanizes and further segregates them from the rest of the society.

“I can’t help but feel that if those who claim to justifiably discriminate against Roma knew the positive, life affirming aspects of their culture…were touched by the soul of the culture…the fear and unfamiliarity that many non-Roma harbor would eventually melt away.” (Artist’s Statement)

The exhibition originally took place at StellArt Gallery. Fortunately, the owner of the building, who happened to be a member of the Jewish Education and Culture Centre in Prague, realized the deep meaning and significance of the “Gypsy Soul”. He suggested making it a part of the 2017 Khamoro Roma Music Festival and featuring it in Prague’s “Jubilee” Synagogue.

“There are common elements interwoven in the often tragic history of the Jews and Roma in Europe in modern times. Often facing similar expressions of racism, discrimination, anti-semitism and at times, open hatred; both have unique, lively and valuable cultures that have survived and thrived. The exhibition and the venue show the colorful, life affirming aspects of both cultures.” (Artist’s Statement)

The photography exhibit, “Gypsy Soul” will open on June 2 through August 31, 2017 at Jerusalem Synagogue. Mark’s works can also be seen at www.markwiedornphoto.com. Make sure to drop by his exhibition to experience the vibrant colors and energizing vibes of the Roma music and dance!

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