Delaine Le Bas: Witch Hunt
"He looked so odd that farm labourers would go some way to a void meeting him, and children would call out after him ‘Witch’. And some would call ‘Gypsy’, and to these he would sometimes stop and speak and give them a penny." - Brian Seymour Vesey-FitzGerald, George Borrow, 1953
As part of the UK Romany community (Roma being the largest ethnic minority in Europe), Delaine Le Bas explores many of the experiences of intolerance, misrepresentation, transitional displacement and homelessness that the community continues to face. Witch Hunt is a multimedia project comprising installation, performance and new music. For Chapter, Delaine has created new ecclesial structures reflecting the religious dimension of the ‘Witch Hunt’, weaving within them new work which explores the role of language in identifying the ‘other’.
Witchcraft was built around words, as much dependent on lost ways of speaking as on particular incantations. Witches, like Gypsies, have provoked unmatched levels of hysteria, excitement and persecution. Their tongues may not be forked, but they threaten invisible borders as outsiders camped within.
Linguistic difference has long been a source of conflict and suspicion, as well as pride, in the British Isles. Welsh children were made to wear shaming knots if they spoke their ancestral tongue at school and, to date, the language of Britain’s hundreds of thousands of Romanies gets no mention on the National Curriculum.
The Gypsies, often tried for witchcraft, fared better at preserving their language in Wales than in England. But the grim accusations of witchcraft were made in all of Britain’s languages: "Witch wyti, a myfi a’th profia di yn witch" or "You are a witch, and I will prove you a witch". Political scapegoating may be today’s equivalent of the spiritually bigoted finger-pointing once reserved for those suspected of dark magic.
Witch Hunt was originally shown at aspex Gallery, Portsmouth (www.aspex.org.uk) and has been developed for exhibition at Chapter. Le Bas’ work was also included in Paradise Lost, The First Roma Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2007; Refusing Exclusion, Prague Biennale 3, Prague 2007; Living Together, Museo De Arte Contmeporanea De Vigo, Spain 2009 (curated by Emma Dexter and Xabier Arakistan) and has been shown with Damian Le Bas in an exhibition at D’Vir Gallery, Tel Aviv, in November 2009 (curated by Claire Fontaine). She is included in ‘Sixty Innovators Shaping Our Creative Future’ by Thames & Hudson. Delaine Le Bas is represented by Galleria Sonia Rosso, Turin and Galerie Giti Nourbakhsch, Berlin. She lives and works in Worthing, West Sussex.