Mara Oláh: Bleached

Mara Oláh: Bleached, oil on wood, 93×57 cm. Text reads: “The gypsy, if he calls the bleached Mara to account! Was it worth it for you to bleach? Yes!”

“I was born in Monor in 1945. My father was a Gypsy musician, my mother was a potter from a Beás Gypsy family. The quarrels between the two families, due to their origins and lifestyle, meant that my childhood was spent in constant wandering. My mother and I lived in Monor and my maternal grandparents’ house in Mogyoród. I dropped out of school in the sixth grade and only finished primary school as a woman. At the age of nineteen I married a Hungarian boy, which my mother-in-law opposed so much that my mother died without knowing my husband’s mother. In 1967, my daughter was born. My child graduated from a secondary school of economics and was a successful sports shooter in competitions. I have worked as a cleaner for most of my life, first as a janitor and later as a self-employed handywoman. We built a house, then exchanged it and moved to Budapest.

During my life I have suffered from several serious illnesses. My tumours were diagnosed late, despite persistent complaints. I was operated on several times. It was during one of these critical periods in my life, after the sudden death of my mother, in 1988, that I started painting. I experienced fatal head spasms. On one of those days of head cramps, I asked my daughter for a pencil and paper because I felt I had to draw. That’s when my painting began, because by the time I finished the picture of Sophia Loren, my headaches were gone, as if they had never happened. My relatives thought I was stupid for painting. I painted over a hundred pictures. I gave them away, keeping only one painting of my eye operation. In November 1991, I took this painting to the National Gallery to ask for their opinion on whether it was worth painting. The experts encouraged me to continue. After that I started to receive invitations to various exhibitions”.