Rosa Taikon was an internationally renowned silversmith, a Roma civil rights activist, and an active social-welfare polemicist.
Rosa Taikon was born in Tibro, Skaraborg county, in 1926. Her modern Agda Karlsson was a farmgirl from Härryda who had met the significantly older Johan Taikon at the Lorensberg restaurant. They were both working there, she was a waitress whilst Johan Taikon was a violinist. Together they had four children: Paul, Rosa, Pauline, and Katarina Taikon. Rosa Taikon’s mother died from tuberculosis when she was just 29 years old. Rosa Taikon and her family sometimes lived in a tent, or a caravan, or sometimes at hotels during her childhood. They led a nomadic lifestyle in part due to the nature of their livelihoods and also due to local restrictive practises. Their income was based on musical performances and working at the fun-fairs whilst Johan Taikon also made items out of pewter whenever required. He was also a silversmith, and Rosa Taikon carried on this tradition following the murder in 1962 of her big brother, Paul, who would otherwise normally have continued his father’s profession.
Rosa Taikon learned to play the drums at an early age and began working as a professional musician when she was just nine years old. Her brother Paul, who was two years her senior, was also in the band. They would perform in public parks and at dancehalls across Sweden. Rosa Taikon was also responsible for caring for her younger siblings and keeping the tent tidy, fetching clean water, doing the laundry and preparing food. When she was 13 years old she became responsible for running the household whilst also working in the evenings when she would dance and perform at the fun-fair. Her father tried to get his children into the local schools but was confronted by the endemic racism of the system as well as that of the local educators, representatives of the authorities, and the local population. Nomadic people such as the Roma were not allowed to stay for longer periods in any one place if they could not prove that they were in regular employment – Johan Taikon’s type of work was not included within that category. The family’s livelihood indeed required them to move on once their local ‘market’ became saturated. All these reasons combined to make it difficult for the children to gain a solid education.
Rosa Taikon was married off to a cousin, called Stevo, when she was 15 years old. She hardly knew the man but she was in love with him. As a wife, regardless of her young age, she was expected to have an active sexlife and this gave rise to an ovarian infection which left her sterile. The infection was worsened by the constant cold of life in a tent and due to inadequate treatment at the hands of a doctor. Rosa Taikon and her husband divorced two years after the wedding and she then returned to her family and a life of heavy responsibility at the camp.
In 1944 Rosa Taikon began to work as home-help for the Larsson family in Stureby. The wife in the family, Elisabeth Larsson, ran three successful wool shops and soon invited Rosa Taikon to work as a salesperson in her shop near Östermalmstorg. This job opened up a new world to Rosa Taikon and, before getting on the bus into Stockholm from her home camp in Lilla Skondal she would change out of her Roma clothes in a forest grove and put on a modern outfit. She apparently began to lead a dual existence comprising both traditional Roma life and a modern Swedish one.
Rosa Taikon’s father Johan Taikon died in 1947. The following year Rosa Taikon married for a second time. Her second husband was a sailor named Allan Widegren. The couple settled at Kocksgatan in Stockholm. Both Rosa Taikon and her sister Katarina became members of the capital city’s artistic circles. Rosa Taikon sat as a model for Albin Amelin and Sven X-et Erixson, whilst her sister Katarina played the lead role in Arne Sucksdorff’s film Uppbrott. The two sisters also appeared in other films, including Christian Jaque’s Singoalla, which was based on the eponymous novel by Viktor Rydberg. The Roma people who appeared in Singoalla were presented in a racist and stereotypical manner as uncivilised thieves, leading the Taikon women to regret their decision to act in it. According to frequently reported accounts it was as a result of the Taikon women gaining an education and being able to read the kind of material published about ‘gypsies’ in various contexts, along with their knowledge of what was contained in the UN’s declaration of human rights, that they began to fight for the rights of the Roma.
In the early 1950s the sisters took whichever employment they could get. Rosa Taikon sometimes worked as a film extra, a waitress, and on the Marabou factory conveyor belt in Sundbyberg. When she and her sister Katarina found themselves homeless in 1952 the actor Per Oscarsson – whom they had both got to know during one of their theatre jobs – invited them to live in his large house in Ulriksdal. They stayed there for several years, and this was the first time they spent a longer period living in the same place.
In 1958 Rosa Taikon and her sister Katarina began a two-year course at the Birkagården public college. Their studies were financed by state stipends as well as private donations. Rosa Taikon, having now gained a basic education, as well as a silversmith course she had taken with Kursverksamheten – the forerunner to the Folk university – then began studying at Konstfackskolan (now Konstfack, or the college of arts, crafts, and design) in the autumn of 1961. Initially she attended the applied arts day-school for two years, then she spent three years at the advanced applied arts school. She graduated in 1967 and then started her own independent silversmiths. She had already held her first solo exhibition in 1966 at the Bollmora centre library.
During her time at Konstfack Rosa Taikon met the Austrian architectural student Bernd Janusch, who had worked at Katarina Taikon’s ice-cream bar, Vips American Ice Cream Bar, on Birger Jarlsgatan. Rosa Taikon and Bernd Janusch began seeing each other in 1964 and married in 1967 at Tyresö church. In 1969 the National museum held an exhibition of Rosa Taikon’s and Bernd Janusch’s jewellery. The exhibition also provided information on the plight of the Roma and Rosa Taikon used various texts to make demands that the Roma should have the same rights and opportunities as any other citizens. Rosa Taikon and her sister Katarina spearheaded the Roma civil rights movement during the 1960s and actively worked in opposition to the local and national authorities by championing the rights of the Roma. Katarina Taikon’s first book, Zigenerska, was published in 1963. This was an autobiographical polemical work which highlighted the plight of the Roma and the authorities’ responsibility within the situation. In 1964 she set up Zigenarsamfundet (the gypsy foundation) organisation, in collaboration with the chief editor Evert Kumm and the welfare doctor John Takman. Rosa Taikon was actively involved in the organisation which sought to promote the inclusion of the Roma in wider society as well as recognising their interests. At this point in time she shared the current dominant belief that the lifestyle of the Roma was doomed to vanish in the face of modern society and that they therefore had to adapt and become integrated. Rosa Taikon thus became allied with the left-wing movement and attended the 1 May demonstration in 1965, carrying a placard demanding educational opportunities for adult Roma. In the later 1960s she would question this perspective and instead adopt a view which was multicultural in approach.
Rosa Taikon and Bernd Janusch collaborated on and held several joint exhibitions. In 1973 they moved to an old schoolhouse in Flor, Ytterhogdal, which gave them both room and time to work on their silversmithing. Thirteen years later the couple separated, although they continued to hold joint exhibitions until 1992.
Rosa Taikon also held solo exhibitions at many places in Sweden, across the North and wider Europe, and she also participated in many joint exhibitions, both in Sweden and further afield. Pieces of her jewellery can be seen in the collections of the National museum, the Röhsska museum, the Gävle museum, the Kunstindustri museum in Oslo, and the Värmland museum. She and Bernd Janusch jointly created a bridal crown for Bollmoradalen church in 1973. She was a guest on the Lasse Holmqvist TV-programme Här är ditt liv in April 1984. The Nordiska museum held an exhibition entitled Smycken with Rosa Taikon’s pieces in the autumn of 2011.
Throughout her life Rosa Taikon was awarded numerous prizes and merits, both for her artwork and her work in human rights. In 2010 she received the Illis quorum medal, and in 2012 she was awarded the Riksskådebanan cultural prize for her work on behalf of minorities and for her silversmith work. She received the Olof Palme prize in 2013 in recognition of her “uncompromising defence of every human’s equal worth” and because she represented “five decades of struggle on behalf of the Roma culture and their civic rights”. In 2014 Rosa Taikon was made an honorary doctor of Södertörn college. This appointment served as a statement on the public debate on the plight of the Roma and other minorities and was connected to the government role given to Södertörn college to develop specialised teacher-training in the Roma language of Romani Chib. Södertörn college also highlighted Rosa Taikon’s activism and its relationship to the goals of civic education, versatility, and multiculturalism.
Rosa Taikon carried on living and working at Flor until her death in the summer of 2017.