Holding a PhD in art theory and history and artistic director of the Art Encounters Foundation in Timisaora, Diana Marincu is the curator of the exhibition "Persona. Works by Romanian artists” at the Mucem in Marseille.
The exhibition “Persona – Works by Romanian Artists” brings together eight contemporary Romanian artists who question notions of identity through the prism of the mask. Diana Marincu offers us some thoughts on this exhibition, which provides an unprecedented focus on the artistic engagements of contemporary Romanian art, through the works of Ioana Bătrânu, Anca Benera and Arnold Estefan, Răzvan Botilege, Mircea Cantor, Olivia Mihălțianu, Anca Munteanu Rîmnic and Ioana Nemeún.
What was the origin of this exhibition, which juxtaposes ethnographic objects with the works of contemporary Romanian artists?
I discovered the Mucem Romanian ethnographic collection during my first visit in 2017. As a curator, I always start from the works and the context before defining a theme. Among the great diversity of objects in the collection, it appeared to me that the richest and most complex recurring motif was that of the mask. The exhibition was intended to create a connection between the collection and contemporary Romanian art, and the mask appeared as a wonderful starting point. I chose five traditional masks as a basis for my reflection on the notion of identity.
Why the title “Persona”?
The word "persona" is a Latin word that means "the actor's mask" but also "the role, the character". This idea fascinated me, as well as all its modern variations, particularly in the French language "personne” (“person” or “nobody” in English), "personnage” (“character” in English)... I thought that it could be very symbolic for this exhibition which addresses the subject of identity.
The word "persona" allowed me to play with these different notions: it is a metaphor for the theme of the exhibition and the duality present in the artists' works. It is a very rich exhibition that asks more questions than it answers, by opening up a wider range of possibilities and reflections for the viewer.
How did you select the eight artists presented in the exhibition?
I considered artists interested in the concepts of belonging and national identity; how to define identity, build it or deconstruct it, whether based on geographical, cultural or symbolic criteria. I also chose artists who were interested in traditions, and who interrogate their contemporary adaptations through different mediums (painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, installation, and video).
How do the connections created between the works and the ethnographic objects develop?
The exhibition opens on Simulanta by Anca Munteanu Rimnic, which faces the five masks in the collection. It sets the tone by opting for confrontation, with three large-format photographs of a performance where a dancer struggles with a traditional Romanian rug, as if seeking to free herself from this symbolic and cultural heritage. Conversely, the Anca Benera and Arnold Estefan installation “Isa, por ëou homou vogymuk (Indeed, we are all dust and ashes)” take an approach of appropriation: it includes a traditional wooden funerary totem, the kopjafa, which today has been taken up as a symbol of the far right. Produced by a Transylvanian craftsman, here it is re-imagined as a symbol for marginalised, disadvantaged or persecuted groups – ethnic minorities and LGBT people, journalists and cultural workers. It is interesting to see that a folk object can ultimately convey very contemporary political ideas. Another example of this dialogue between the past and present is Mircea Cantor's "flying carpets" made with the weaver Victoria Baerbecaru, combining the contemporary symbol of the aeroplane with older angel motifs.
What place do the pagan traditions embodied by the mask occupy in contemporary Romania?
The pagan traditions belong to the past and to local folklore. But in some regions, between Christmas and Epiphany, we still see parades of bears and masks to chase away evil spirits. In these ancient rituals, the mask marks a break between the past year and the new year, but also in the order of things; it was this symbol that interested me in the exhibition. The mask is also present in Mircea Cantor's exhibition at the Museum of Hunting and Nature, through masks from the collection of the Romanian Peasant Museum in Bucharest. They appear here in old designs by Ioana Bătrânu, exhibited here for the first time.
“Persona" is based on a dual temporality, between the past and the present. Should viewers consider the relationship with time and, more generally, the concept of cultural heritage?
There is indeed a reflection on the past and the construction of a discourse on national identity, but first and foremost I wanted this to be an exhibition that is fluid and full of very contemporary issues. That’s why I chose artists from different generations, who live in Romania and also belong to the diaspora, which makes it possible not to have a single, frozen image of the country, but instead to offer different perspectives, both internal and external. I believe that this exhibition paves a path towards more universal questions on the concept of identity today and the fact that it is difficult to define it based on a geographical area. I think that, when their potential is not undermined, this young generation of artists has a gifted eye and great critical thinking skills. In my opinion, this is what truly characterises the new Romanian artistic scene.
The "Persona" exhibition is presented at the Mucem from 5th April to 23rd June as part of the 2019 France-Romania season.
The 2019 France-Romania Season (November 2018-July 2019) is implemented by the Institut français and, in Romania, by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Culture and National Identity and the Romanian Cultural Institute, with the support of the French and Romanian embassies, the Alliances Françaises and other ministries in both countries.
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