In the series ‘culture on the camp’ you meet a number of prominent Limburg caravan dwellers. The artist Morena Bamberger grew up in the Sinti culture. In her teenage years, a rift arose between her and her family when she left the camp.
She came to live alone and study at the art academy. She then returned to the trailer park to make a documentary about and with her family.
Bamberger has previously exhibited in the Bonnefantenmuseum and has received various art prizes such as the Gilbert de Bontridder prize. This year she is nominated for the Parkstad Limburg prize. Still, she wasn’t really in the limelight before. She lived in the safe cocoon of the trailer park where her family lived.
“I’ve always been a bit of the black sheep of the family. But it’s not surprising, every family has one, and in our case it was me.” Bamberger was a very dreamy child who sometimes needed time alone and sought peace in the forest near the camp where she grew up, in Roermond. Bamberger is a well-known Sinti name in this region. Although growing up in the trailer culture was very comfortable and safe, various events made her feel the need to break away from the culture and from the camp.
Her generation was the first in the trailer park to go to a ‘normal’ school. In elementary school, she didn’t feel very well: she was bullied. Not only because of her Sinti background, but because she was different after all, according to herself. Morena, but also other residents of the camp, felt very discriminated against in the village. “People would often cycle past the camp and shout nasty things. And I remember there was a carnival parade where people dressed as gypsies were handing out bags that said ‘Drugs and Fraud’. I didn’t understand that. It was the opposite . who we were.”
As a child, she quickly felt like an adult, says the artist. At one point, she also took over the care of her 15-year-old brother when her mother was not well and she did a lot of household chores. “In retrospect, I didn’t mind at all.”
In puberty, things started to turn. “I think I was one of the few who wanted to create my own life here in the Netherlands.” she says. “I wanted to integrate into ordinary civil society. I only kept the image of Western society in front of me: to be successful, make a career and make a lot of money. I regret that afterwards, because it doesn’t suit me.”
Bamberger had the choice: either to the conservatory or to the art academy. It was the last one. Her parents approved of the training. But it was especially the fact that she moved together outside the camp that led to great sadness and then a break between the family and Morena. “I was the first daughter to leave the camp, it was just really hard.” She didn’t see her family for a while after that.
Life outside – or at least without – Sinti culture proved very difficult. Bamberger had already experienced that before when she went to play with friends. “If they went to eat, I had to go home. I didn’t understand that, because with us it was clear that everyone always ate together.” The world outside the Sinti culture also revolves around other values and norms. “With us there are unwritten laws and rules, we understand them almost telepathically.” According to the artist, the outside world is very different from the culture within the caravan camp, where everything is safe and secure.
Back to the package
During her college years, living alone, the realization slowly came that a transition from Sinti culture to normal civil society was a big one, and that it didn’t have to mean forgetting one’s roots. The Sinti background has always been central to her art. She created paintings, installations and even films around the theme.
One is ‘Back to the Pack’. “When I returned to the trailer park five years ago, I made a documentary about my family by looking at them with new eyes,” she says. “I brought my camera and a bag full of materials from the art academy, so I actually turned the caravan camp into my studio.”
And it’s remarkable, because Bamberger’s art is striking to say the least, sometimes even bizarre. She made her parents do strange things in the film, such as playing the violin with vegetables, rummaging through a container of maggots, or wearing strange clothes. “It was very special, there was a kind of natural merging of two worlds. They thought it was strange at first, but afterwards they really liked participating,” says Bamberger. And especially when I invited them all to the opening of my exhibition in Bonnefanten. Then suddenly there were 30 Sinti with other people in the room watching the film. They were really proud and thought it was very beautiful.’
The rift was mended by making the documentary. Bamberger did not return to live in the trailer park. She and her boyfriend found their own place in a country house in Well, where she has her studio and practice, and where she still makes music. Her Sinti ancestry lives on in everything she does, and the house is also full of symbolism. In addition to her artwork, as a coach and healer she also helps other people who are searching for their inner selves. For her, that journey is also a metaphor for the wheel. Which is again the symbol of the Sinti and Roma gypsies.
Making the documentary has given her an important insight into her origins. “I realized how unique it all really was. And that it’s not something to cherish, not something to remove from your life.”
More about the series ‘Culture on camp’
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