Dr Jodie Matthews is a scholar of the representation of Romani/Gypsy people in Britain – the exhibition at the Brotherton Gallery runs to 31 July

gypsies Dr Jodie Matthews - the images above and below are reproduced by permission of Special Collections, University of Leeds

AN exhibition that illuminates the lives, culture and representation of Gypsies in Yorkshire and beyond over the course of five centuries has been co-curated by a University of Huddersfield lecturer.

Titled Rights and Romance: Representing Gypsy Lives, it can be seen at the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery at the University of Leeds, where it is on display until the close of July.

The gallery has a Romany Collection of pictures and artefacts and when it was decided to use the material as the basis for an exhibition it enlisted Dr Jodie Matthews, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Huddersfield whose research specialises in  representations and experiences of people who travelled around Britain including Romanies/Gypsies and canal boat people.

Her involvement followed on from that of the organisation Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange and Amanda Reed, who is from a Gypsy family in Leeds and who has established the online Gypsyville Heritage Group, named after a district of Leeds that was well known for its Romani families and culture.

“It is gratifying that they had gone to the community first to talk about curating the exhibition and then came to me,” said Dr Matthews.  “As an academic interested in having as a broad a research impact as possible, I was pleased that the exhibition is a co-curation with the community.”

It includes a large number of paintings, drawings and photographs that show how Gypsies have been represented – and misrepresented – over the course of several centuries.  Sometimes they were romanticised, sometimes they were vilified.  One of the oldest items on display is a copy of the early 16th century statute in which Henry VIII expelled Gypsies from his realm.

“This is part of a section about the fight for very basic human rights that Gipsies have faced since their arrival in Britain,” said Dr Matthews.

Bringing the story up to modern times are 20th century Press Association photos documenting dimensions of Romani life, and there are artefacts such as wooden flowers of the sort that Gypsies would fashion for sale.

The story continues below the video....

Dr Jodie Matthews talks about the Gypsy, Traveller & Roma Collections at the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery

In this video Dr Matthews explains why certain pieces were chosen to best demonstrate the ways in which the Gypsy way of life was romanticised by the media and says quite often the harsh realities, experienced by Romani Gypsies on a regular basis, were not portrayed.

Dorothy Una Ratcliffe

Much of the material in the gallery’s Romany Collection was assembled by the poet Dorothy Una Ratcliffe (who died in 1967).  Well known for her poetry in the Yorkshire dialect, she was the niece by marriage of the tycoon and philanthropist Edward Allen, Baron Brotherton, a major benefactor of the University of Leeds and its famous library.

One of the events taking place during the run of the exhibition is a lecture by Dr Matthews on Tuesday 17 July that examines the life and career of Dorothy Una Ratcliffe.

“It is an internationally-focussed exhibition, because it’s about diaspora and a trans-national Gypsy identity, but it’s also very much a Yorkshire story because Dorothy thought of herself as a Daleswoman and she very much saw the Gypsy community as part of Yorkshire Life, integral to the Dales.

“The fact that Dorothy Una Ratcliffe gave her collection to Leeds University in 1950, along with funds to increase the collection, means that this archive of representations of Gypsy life is available for us to try to understand both positive and negative attitudes towards this community in the past,” added Dr Matthews.

On  22 May at the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery (1 pm) there is to be a free lecture from Romani academic Dr Ken Lee – who is an affiliate of the University of Huddersfield – on the life of Esmeralda Lock, a Romani woman whose turbulent life was the subject of two books.

  • Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery – Parkinson Building, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT – is open 10am-5pm Tuesday to Saturday and 1pm-5pm on Monday.  Admission is free.  For further information, telephone 0113 343 9803 or email gallery@leeds.ac.uk.

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