Hello from Hungary! I have been in this amazing country for well over a week now, and I can’t believe how much I’ve seen and learned. I’ll get into most of that later; for now, I wanted to talk about an experience my group was able to have this past weekend, and a resulting feature on my blog!
Deep in the Hungarian countryside, nestled among marshy foothills and acres of sunflowers, lies a small village called Bodvalenke. This isn’t an ordinary village, however. Out of the 50 or so homes in Bodvalenke, nearly 30 of them are painted with stunningly intricate murals, each depicting various scenes from Roma culture or folklore. Beginning in 2009 and directed by Eszter Pásztor, the Freskófalu Project (Fresco Village) highlights Roma artists from around the world and brings prestige and tourism to the region. As their website describes, the project has two goals: “[G[lobally, to contribute to the dismantling of prejudices, and locally, to remove the village from extreme poverty – that is, to prove that a Roma village can stand on its own.”
Unfortunately, the project has run out of funding, and there doesn’t seem to be hope of getting more in the near future. Weather and poor building infrastructure has already damaged several of the murals, and many more are at risk of loss. The people of Bodvalenke are proud of their town (as they should be), but they are too disenfranchised and poverty-stricken to fight its decline. Tourism to the Freskófalu Project can be a boon, but without more government funding, the future of the project remains uncertain.
However, the passion and the kindness of the residents is unwavering, and we were welcomed with open arms for a homemade meal and a personalized tour. Our group was frequently followed by local children, who were excited to practice their English and show off the woven crafts they had for sale at a nearby school.
During our tour, Eszter led our group to nearly all of the murals, lovingly describing each detail as though she had painted them herself. The stories are beautiful, and fascinating, and often haunting. Roma culture is very expressive and empathetic, and these elements were reflected in the artwork. I was blown away time and again – not only by the precision and care each artist or group had taken with their mural, but also by the willingness of the residents to allow large groups of strangers to tromp through their yards to view them.
I left Bodvalenke feeling incredibly moved by the Fresco Village. To see such vibrant life and resiliency in the face of discrimination and hardship is powerful, and not an experience I’ll soon forget. Since Eszter’s words are far more eloquent than my own, I will be sharing one of her mural descriptions each month, so that you can all witness this important project and hear the stories for yourselves. As Eszter says, the first step in empowering a community is to return their dignity to them. I hope that by sharing their work and their stories, I might contribute to that movement.
This month’s mural is called “Flying Angels”.
Eszter: The painter János Horváth first thought of this picture at a time when the Roma were flying to Canada and France and all sorts of other countries in the hope that they’d find refuge there, in hope of a better life. [In this mural] everyone is leaving. Even the tree tears its roots. And there are some who [tell] them, “Go away!”. But by the time they get there – you see this returning movement in the picture – they are turned back.
[One] of the questions that this picture tries to [ask] is: Do we have a home? And look at all the faces – they are all distorted. They are distorted, because when you are afraid or when you intimidate others, then you lose everything worth living for. You lose love, and trust, and confidence, and all the good things, and all that remains is envy and suspicion and fear of the other. And that distorts us; both those who fear, and those who make you fear. This picture was painted with the Roma in hand, but I think [it could reference] any refugees.