SMArt Talks

Alexandra Chiriac: No Place Like Home: Avant-Garde Yiddish Theatre between the National and the Transnational

Zoltán Ginelli: ‘Hungarian Indians’? Race and Colonialism in Hungarian ‘Indian Play’

15. 3. 2023
Hans Belting Library

Alexandra Chiriac researches twentieth-century performance and design and is the author of Performing Modernism: A Jewish Avant-garde in Bucharest (2022). She holds a PhD from the University of St Andrews and during 2020-22 was a Leonard A. Lauder Research Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Chiriac is also part of a collaborative research project initiated by the Zbigniew Raszewski Theatre Institute in Warsaw that aims to create a lexicon of theatrical avant-gardes in East-Central Europe. She has lectured on Yiddish theatre at Columbia University, the Romanian National Art Museum, and the Yiddishland Pavilion in conjunction with the 2022 Venice Biennale.


No Place Like Home: Avant-Garde Yiddish Theatre between the National and the Transnational

During the 1920s and early 1930s, Bucharest was a thriving space of experimentation for itinerant Yiddish performers, who garnered both commercial and critical success. Seeking stability, the internationally renowned Vilna Troupe made Romania its permanent home and the avant-garde theatre director Iacob Sternberg strove to create a permanent organisation for Jewish theatre in the country. This talk examines how Yiddish performance flourished in Romania despite an increasingly hostile political climate and how its traces were later obscured due to peripatetic trajectories either chosen or enforced. It also discusses the challenges of researching and writing about transnational performance in an East European context shaped by national archives and narratives.

A Night in the Old Marketplace, Bucharest Yiddish Theatre Studio, 1930. Photograph by Iosif Berman. Courtesy of the Centre for the Study of Jewish History in Romania.

Zoltán Ginelli is a geographer and global historian at the University of Public Service in Budapest, Hungary. He follows a world-systemic and decolonial approach to study the global history of Hungarian coloniality and the relations between Eastern Europe and the Global South. In 2021, he co-curated the exhibition ‘Transperiphery Movement’. Currently, he is finishing his book ‘The Global Histories of the Quantitative Revolution’ and a co-written book on the global histories of Hungarian coloniality for Cambridge University Press.



Hungarian Indians’? Race and Colonialism in Hungarian ‘Indian Play’

Critical literature on race and colonialism remains Westcentric and often ignores Eastern European positions. Hungary’s place within the global history of racial colonialism has been selectively interpreted, under-researched, or silenced. This talk shows how Hungarian ‘semiperipheral whiteness’, an in-between position of ‘not-quite-whites’ evading ‘white guilt’ complicates the global histories of ‘Indian play’: representing, comparing to, and identifying or performing as Native Americans by whites. The lecture then asks how this history informs the lack of critical engagement with the heritage of ‘Indian play’ in contemporary Hungarian culture amidst raging Western debates on cultural appropriation, ‘redfacing’, ‘white guilt’, and a decolonial politics increasingly captured by identity politics in neoliberal capitalism.

Borvendég Deszkáss Sándor (White Deer)

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