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Dan Perjovschi: "I grew up in your Utopia"

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Dan Per­jovschi, born in 1961 in the Ro­man­ian town of Sibiu, is a star of the in­ter­na­tional arts scene. At the bar in Paris where we meet, the el­e­gant Cité di­rec­tor wel­comes him warmly and full of ad­mi­ra­tion – to the amaze­ment of our waiter. We discuss art, immigration and argue about socialism

Dan is in the process of draw­ing on the win­dows of the Cité na­tionale de l'his­toire de l'im­mi­gra­tion in Paris using black and white marker pens. Work­ing with­out colour is more rad­i­cal, he ex­plains. Dan has made a name for him­self as an artist and car­toon­ist work­ing with words and draw­ings. After the col­lapse of so­cial­ism, he be­came ac­tively in­volved in shap­ing Ro­ma­nia’s new civil so­ci­ety.

His work al­ways in­volves some com­men­tary on cur­rent events in the coun­try he re­sides in at the time. Now, in Paris, he picks up on is­sues such as Pres­i­dent Hol­lande's af­fair, the con­tro­ver­sial co­me­dian Dieudonné, and Gérard De­par­dieu’s em­i­gra­tion to Rus­sia. Dan’s work has been fea­tured at the MoMa in New York, the Tate Mod­ern in Lon­don and at the Ruhrtri­en­nale in Ger­many.

Café Babel: Have you been fol­low­ing the de­bate about Ro­man­ian and Bul­gar­ian im­mi­gra­tion?

Dan Per­jovschi: In Britain, where im­mi­gra­tion is a par­tic­u­larly hot topic, you see a lot of fear mon­ger­ing along the lines of “these peo­ple are com­ing here to take your jobs”! The truth is that we’re com­ing to clean toi­lets. There are also plenty of doc­tors and nurses com­ing from Poland, Ro­ma­nia and Bul­garia – which is the rea­son we have hardly any doc­tors left at home. Yes, of course, some of us come to steal and beg, but we also come to look after your old peo­ple. Some­thing that peo­ple in the West no longer have time for.

Why is it that Ro­ma­ni­ans and Bul­gar­i­ans are get­ting so much bad press?

Dan Per­jovschi: The Ro­man­ian gov­ern­ment has done noth­ing to counter the bad rep­u­ta­tion its im­mi­grants are now get­ting. It was quite ob­vi­ous that the de­bate would in­ten­sify once the tem­po­rary con­trols ended on 1st Jan­u­ary 2014. Here in Paris, the Ro­man­ian exile com­mu­nity goes back a long way. The sculp­tor Con­stan­tin Bran­cusi is on dis­play at the Cen­tre Pom­pi­dou and Ionesco’s plays are shown in the the­atres. Ro­ma­ni­ans have al­ready made their mark in West­ern Eu­rope – yet no politi­cian in Ro­ma­nia talks about that. To me, this sit­u­a­tion is lu­di­crous.

How are im­mi­grants wel­comed in Ro­ma­nia?

Dan Per­jovschi: To be hon­est with you: Ro­ma­ni­ans are racist. Gyp­sies are blamed for every­thing. All media cov­er­age about the Roma has some­thing to do with crime. Roma are given oblig­a­tory seats in par­lia­ment, but they are not part of the de­bate. It’s a dis­grace.

How do you ad­dress these is­sues in your art?

Dan Per­jovschi: I am not a po­lit­i­cal artist. I am an artist with a po­lit­i­cal agenda. I haven’t taken part in any demon­stra­tions, but some peo­ple have down­loaded my work from Face­book to print it out and take with them to demon­stra­tions. I am first and fore­most an artist and can’t ded­i­cate my life to being a pro­tester, like some Green­peace ac­tivists who chain them­selves to par­lia­men­tary build­ings. Nev­er­the­less, I have a moral stance.

Which is?

Dan Per­jovschi: You’ll prob­a­bly be shocked to hear this, but I don’t think much of so­cial­ist the­ory. I grew up in your Utopia, and I can tell you: it was no good.

Per­haps it was just that so­cial­ism was badly im­ple­mented.

Dan Per­jovschi: It’s my life and not yours. I’m the one who has lived on the side of the Berlin Wall that had no graf­fiti, no free­dom of speech… In our so­ci­ety every­thing was con­trolled. So, please don’t give me any bull­shit about the so­cial­ist ideal!

But the so­cial­ist ideal did not in­clude a Stasi.

Dan Per­jovschi: Then show me one so­cial­ist coun­try with­out a se­cret po­lice.

Is it bet­ter today with the NSA?

Dan Per­jovschi: Just come to my coun­try and see for your­self what dam­age so­cial­ism has done to it, and then com­plain about West­ern Eu­rope. I have lived in so­cial­ist Ro­ma­nia: a com­bi­na­tion of North Korea and an ex­tremely na­tion­al­ist ide­ol­ogy.

And yet you crit­i­cise the cur­rent sys­tem with your art.

Dan Per­jovschi: The po­lit­i­cal sys­tem has to change. Be­cause I can­not un­der­stand why the politi­cians are able to make de­ci­sions, and I – as an artist – am not.

What is the dif­fer­ence be­tween the old so­cial­ist sys­tem and Ro­ma­nia today?

Dan Per­jovschi: I grew up in a non-mar­ket econ­omy. So all I could do was try to please my friends – since I wasn’t able to earn any money. After 50 years in the gulag of so­cial­ist ide­ol­ogy you want in­de­pen­dence, in­di­vid­u­al­ity and wealth. How­ever, 25 years after the col­lapse of so­cial­ism, I am grad­u­ally shift­ing to the left. We now also have a mar­ket for the arts in Ro­ma­nia. Young artists dream about hav­ing their work on show at the Basel art fair and being able to make money.

The video was pro­duced by Alexan­dre Mar­tinez for Café Babel.

The ar­ti­cle was trans­lated from the Ger­man by Betti Moser.

This ar­ti­cle is part of Cafébabel's 'Im­mi­gra­tion Dossier', a se­ries of ar­ti­cles ex­plor­ing im­mi­gra­tion in the EU.

Translated from Dan Perjovschi: „Ich komme aus eurem Utopia“