Artist Kiba Lumberg: “Don’t box me in!”

by , under Enrique

In order to understand Kiba Lumberg, 57, you need to know some Finnish history, the plight of minorities like the Roma, and what it is like to live in worlds shaded by different hues of grey. Since this story is about an artist who doesn’t want to conform to set norms imposed on her by society, it’s useless for me to fence her in with the help of words. 

Roma Pavilion, Lumberg, Crazy Artist Diary
Kiba Lumberg, Diary of a Mad Artist,  2010–11. Her work has been widely published in comic books, illustrations and scripts.

If there’s a quote that could possibly describe Lumberg, who wants to stay as faraway as possible from ethnic labels, it’s what Martin Luther King Jr. said in his famous ”I have a dream” speech of 1963:

”I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

No other person is better qualified than Lumberg to throw a monkey wrench in the works of those who want to box people in groups and dress them up with stereotypes.

Lumberg was raised by Romany parents and is a lesbian.

”I’m against anyone boxing me in an ethnic group because I am first and foremost a human being,” she said. ”I’m against groups, like heterosexuals, who try to torpedo who I am.”

She says that the heterosexual world is so imposing in our society that it doesn’t permit her to share her experiences and stories with others.

“As a lesbian you are seen as a threat because you change the so-called natural order of things of heterosexuals,” she said. ”What about my relationships with people who are important in my life?  Why can’t I openly share them with others?”

Not being white but a member of a minority like the Roma and a lesbian in Finland not only makes it hard for some people to accept you, but the same rejection and suspicion comes from the Roma community.

Lumberg states emphatically that she doesn’t seek the acceptance of any group.

Understanding the struggles that she has faced to find her identity and sense of balance, it shouldn’t come to any surprise that much of her artwork deals with issues like multiple identities, gender diversity, sexual politics, cultural understanding and otherness. All these are essential if we live a culturally diverse society that is not only heterosexual but respects sexual minorities as well, she said.

“In a way I understand what the Perussuomalaiset are saying because their message of intolerance comes from fear,” she said. ”For a multicultural society to work, it not only requires mutual acceptance and respect between people and groups, but similarly not bowing to any culture at the cost of who you are and what you think. Respecting human rights is key.”

Lumberg adds that while group identity is important, we should never forget the person as an individual human being and his or her right to choose his or her lifestyle and thoughts independently.

The artist, who ran for parliament in 2011 on the Left Alliance ticket, admits that ethnicity does play a role in Finland and can impact a person’s life.

Help how can I get
Kiba Lumberg, Diary of a Mad Artist, 2010–11.

“In Finland it’s usually easier to get a job and get ahead in life if you are white,”  she said, adding that the 10,000-strong Romany minority doesn’t need any lessons on what prejudice and racism are because they have lived in this country for five centuries.

Suzana Milevska in Call the Witness Roma Pavilion, a review of Lumberg’s 2010-11 exhibition, sums up who the artist is as a person, or how her gender and sexual orientation have joined hands and created a multifaceted identity full of contradictions, which have worked in her favor.

She writes: ”Yet life on the edge of these two worlds could be exactly the space where a new subjectivity is born, a loudly speaking subject who testifies about her disenchantments, while simultaneously constructing her singular destiny with confidence.”

Doesn't look good
Kiba Lumberg, Diary of a Mad Artist, 2010–11.

I would take what Milevska wrote a bit further to a poem I wrote a long, long time ago. It was about a transgender cowboy, who was a communist that lived in Texas during the Cold War. 

The transgender cowboy represents for some the worst thing a person can be in a state that is not only openly conservative, but anti-communist and anti-gay. Even so, there’s one side of the poem that you must understand to get it: It takes raw guts to be openly those things in Texas.

That’s why the transgender cowboy is the bravest son of a bitch to ever ride the West.