The portrayal of Roma community in art (paintings, literature, theater, opera and later, cinema and TV) is usually influenced by rasism and ignorance. Thus, we speak about how Roma people often appear as negative characters, dangerous, hard to tame, connected to the supernatural and occult world or how they are usually mocked. Today we are looking at the evolution of this representation.


Art has the power to influence the way we see and judge the world around us. Sometimes, art can be the lens through which we see communities with whom we wouldn’t otherwise interact in our day to day life.

The portrayal of the Roma community in art is a result of the historical times when certain pieces were created and of stereotypes. While not trying to renegate the true value of the works discussed down below, it is important to understand the historical period they were created in, so the negative stereotypes they promote can lose their power.

We will also look at some contemporary Roma artists who are fighting to change the traditional narrative and bring new perspectives.


In paitings, Romas have been portrayed by some of the biggest Romanian painters, such as Nicolae Grigorescu, Theodor Aman or Nicolae Vermont. Many pieces of work show Roma’s lives as exotic and nomadic, lived in poverty and at the edge of society not because of prejudice and exclusion, but as a result of their wish for unlimited freedom, surounded by a scent of mystery and magic. When it comes to portraits, most of them are of Roma women and they are illustrated as wild, immodest seductresses, while the Roma men appear as criminals. Sometimes, they are just background persons, painted far away from any other characters. In most pieces of work, the slavery element is completely ignored.


In literature, Roma characters are rarely the protagonists and if they are, as in Ion Budai-Deleanu’s Țiganiada, they are a collective character with no distinctive figures standing out. Researcher Suciu Pavel Cristian remarks, in his work „The image of Roma in literature”, that writers who included Roma characters in their work were indifferent or even hostile towards the real community, so their portrayal of Roma people is far from accurate.

In well known works, we see Roma as characters the protagonist meets in order to learn a lesson or better himself, after which they are discarded or punished for their sins. Romas often appear in literature as a way to create conflict, an explanation for different criminal acts or a reason of weird, unexplained or even supernatural events.

Luminița Mihai Cioabă is an author of numerous poetry books and one multilingual short story collection, while also being an editor of an anthology of confessions from Roma survivors of the Transnistria deportations. Her work is inspired by the narrations and motifs one could find in oral Roma tradition, while also exploring the author’s internal conflict. Themes such as the special connection of Romas with nature and ritualistic traditions are explored, but they are not presented through the cliche, romanticized or exotic lens.

Luminița Mihai Cioabă’s books have bilingual editions, being written in both Romanian and Romani. Many of her books have been translated for the international public.


In theater and cinema the presence of the same stereotypes can be observed, the diversity in Roma communities and the challenged they face being ignored. In Romanian theater, Roma characters are secondary or episodic ones, usually enslaved jesters or lute players, with few lines and even less of a background story.

On big or silver screens, Roma people are portrayed as uneducated, usually speaking loudly and with many grammatical errors. The costumes are simplified and even caricatured versions of traditional clothing. Also, not a lot of Roma characters are actually played by Roma actors.


Alina Șerban is an award winning actress, playwright and director. She had roles in series such as BBC’s “The Last Enemy” alongside Benedict Cumberbatch, and movies like “The Gypsy Queen”, for which she received The Best Actress Award at The German Actors Union Awards.

“Written/Unwritten”, “Faulty Circuit” and “Alone at My Wedding”, the last one debuting at Cannes in 2018, are another movies for which she earned her numerous awards for her perfomances.

As a playwright, Alina Șerban wrote 3 plays: ”I Declare at My Own Risk”, ”Home” and “The Big Shame”. The first is a one-woman show about the struggles of a Roma woman raised in the slum trying to surpass her condition, while “The Big Shame” explores Roma community’s years of slavery, being the first play written, produced and directed by a Roma female artist who is in the permanent repertoire of the National Theatre in Bucharest.

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